According to Richard Gottlieb, MSW and Diplomate with a capital D, last year at the Empathic Therapy Conference Dr. Peter Breggin said, “If you haven’t been fired at least once, you’re not doing your job.”
Dick and I had been engaged in a conversation that began with his story about a lunch-time chess club he started at his son’s school. The school had an enrollment of about three hundred kids and within a short period of time attendance at the chess club had risen to ninety. Dick was fun; chess was fun; learning was fun.
Then the principle decided that they needed membership cards, which Dick dutifully produced—and membership dropped. Then the principle decided the cards needed to be laminated, which Dick did—and the membership dropped. Then the principle decided the cards needed to be charged for, which Dick did—and the membership dropped to zero.
I countered with a story about my prep school, wherein they took attendance at classes, lunch, after-school sports and evening study hall. And when I quit the system, I stopped going to everything where they took attendance, including lunch.
Which somehow led to Dick’s story about two children, living with their grandmother because their mother was a drug addict who didn’t care about them, who were taken away from their grandmother, split apart, and put into foster care in the city where their mother was in rehab so they could see her. She didn’t want to see them and they didn’t want to see her but, what the hell, the social service agency made the decision based on what would cost them the least.
So—two years later—it ends up in a court trial with seven attorneys representing seven different affected parties and all of them questioning Dick on the witness stand. After five hours the social service agency’s attorney pulled a nasty attorney trick that Dick spun back on him, causing the judge, who had been nearly asleep, to laugh so hard that he almost fell out of his chair, and also causing the attorney to stop asking questions.
Which reminded me of when I was on the witness stand testifying against Richard Sheeran, Onondaga County Deputy Comptroller, who was a participant in the conspiracy in which the Republican Party was using the county employees as their private source for raising funds. The prosecuting attorneys had spent a year telling me that this wasn’t going to be anything like Perry Mason—this would be one tedious question after another; there would be no fireworks, “no Ah-ha!” moment.
So I’m on the witness stand and the nasty little defense attorney, having utterly failed to shake my testimony (“Mr. Sheeran said, ‘Now you can say you’ve had your first shakedown.’ I remember it clearly”) decides to attack me based on my psychiatric history, which was a big mistake. “I had depression, which is a treatable illness, and I sought and received appropriate treatment.” We went around and around on this. Later, the second-chair prosecutor told me that he was kicking the first-chair under the table and whispering, “Object! Object!” But the lead attorney’s position was that I was handling it just fine and I didn’t need him to interrupt. I finally turned to the judge and said, “Already asked and answered, your Honor,” and the judge ordered the defense attorney to move on but he had nothing to move on to. Back in the prosecutor’s office, they were gleefully declaring that “It was just like Perry Mason!”
Which also reminded me of a couple years ago when Zachery Karmen, chief Welfare attorney of Onondaga County, and DSS Commissioner David Sutkowy, put the clients and aides in the Consumer-Directed Personal Assistant Programs being run out of Enable and Arise under constant surveillance by the Welfare Fraud Unit. When Sutkowy and Karmen were pressed to the wall in a public meeting as to why they were so harassing citizens without any evidence of wrong-doing, the guys finally confessed.
They were doing it, first, because the program was so well-run and so user-friendly and so desirable that it had grown from three hundred participants to over a thousand. No people who were disabled wanted the usual for-profit programs to which the county was referring them. Second, the county was keeping the consumer-run programs under surveillance because they could. The for-profit programs were too cumbersome to monitor.
At which point Dick said to me, “You know what this is all about, don’t you?”
“Yup,” I replied. “Power and control.”
To which Dick said, “The only way you can prove to others that you have power is by controlling things. And you can’t control for Good. The only way you can control is by limiting, restricting and denying.
“If you used your power for Good, then you’d be giving everybody else power.”
And we can’t have that, can we? Can’t have the people having power to run their own lives. Dick and I have both been fired, moved out the door, pushed away from paid and volunteer employment for one reason: we are a threat to the power and control exercised by common administrators.
Administration—particularly government administration—is made up of men who want power and use control to get it. People who stand up to them get fired. If you have never been fired then you aren’t standing up and pushing back against mediocrity and veniality. For some of us, the number of times we’ve been fired is a measure of our strength, wisdom and willingness to do what is right for people.
Are you working in service to others, or are you working for ego, money, or what is cost-effective?
How many times have you been fired?
If you have never been fired then you are part of the problem. You are working for the system that hurts people, not for the people who are supposed to be served by the system.