First let me remind you what I mentioned in the other sections on social change. I’m not trying to recruit you to be social workers. I’m merely using my background and training in social work, parts of which I think are transferable to how we can follow Jesus’ example as a change agent, both with individuals and larger social systems. Whether He was healing the sick, feeding the hungry, consoling those who were mourning, or advocating for justice and rights from the religious or secular systems of his day, I think we can apply social work change strategies to meeting the needs of the suffering and oppressed of our day.
More often than not, when we listen to an individual describe their problem, we find that there are at least three levels for intervention, micro, macro or a combination of both. In the previous sections on micro and macro change, we discussed various approaches to individual problems, which would include family problems (micro); and those problems that are presented as individual problems, but it soon becomes evident there is some larger system, that is not meeting the needs of the people they were meant to serve. For example, the welfare or health care systems, when for some bureaucratic reason a client is denied help and they have no other alternative. In those situations, the immediate need of the person and the need for the institution to be responsive are the foci of change (micro and macro).
If a person is starving, you need to meet their immediate needs by providing food (micro). As I mentioned before, “you can’t eat retroactively”, people’s immediate needs for food, shelter, clothing, health care are urgent and need to be met. While macro practice focuses on “cleaning up the swamp”, by focusing social change activities on those institutions, social policies and underlying causes of problems that individuals face, there is a need in most situations to deal with both the micro and macro issues.
For example, when I first moved to Arizona in the late 1960ies, social agencies and the newspapers had an “annual back to school drive” that collected clothing, back packs and pencil boxes for “needy” children going back for a new school year. They also collected money each Christmas for a program called Christmas is for Caring
That is exactly what I meant when I wrote about the Person in Environment (PIE) in the introduction to social change. We need to do both. Here is a website that has a number of good examples how this is being put to action
In the masters program at Fordham I was trained as a clinical social worker (micro practice). In the doctoral program, I specialized in community organization, social policy and planning (macro practice). For most of my professional life, I felt if I really wanted to follow Jesus’ example by applying what I learned as a social worker, I had to be involved on both the macro and micro level. So, in addition to my private practice, where I worked with individuals, families and groups as a therapist, my involvement on agency boards, professional organization, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), or by accepting appointments from three different governors of Arizona to different state boards, I used the skills I had learned in effecting change on larger social systems. I was, from a social work perspective a generalist.
As president of Parents Anonymous an agency that offered services to both parents who had abused their children, and to children who had been abused, at the same time we advocated for changes in the state’s Child Protective Service programs , when they were not effective in protecting children. Today I’m still involved at the macro level by serving as president of the board of Dillon Southwest, an international adoption agency. This gives me an opportunity to use my knowledge of adoption that goes back to the early 60ies, when I was executive director of Catholic Family Services in Schenectady, NY. Foster Care and adoption were two of the main services we provided.
The basic principle of generalist practice is that change agents are able to utilize a problem solving process to intervene with various size systems including individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Working within the person-in-environment framework includes conceptualizing prevention and intervention within a process-oriented, systems model in lieu of traditional models that often limit interventions to the individual. For example, an intervention plan with a troubled adolescent might include his/her family, school, and others system that can be supportive to the adolescent.
Here is a brief framework of the major concept that underlie the delivery system for any social change organization:
Micro Level Intervention Targets
Some frameworks place family and group under mezzo and include only individuals under micro change.
Macro Level Intervention Targets
- Organizations: Corporations, Agencies
- Communities: Cities, Neighborhoods
- Society: Global, National, Regional, States, Policies
- Change Agent: Persons(s) Carrying out the change. Could be an individual providing therapy or leading a group or a team writing policies, or team advocating for a cause.
- Client or Target System: Persons Benefiting from the Change
- Action System: All Those Involved in the Change Process
- Stakeholders: Key Players in the Change Process
Finally, the knowledge and skills of the generalist are transferable from one setting to another and from one problem to another.
One of the considerations, which underlie a decision to pursue macro change, is what theologians, philosophers, and politicians refer to as the Principle of Subsidiarity. If we consider social policy as “values in action”, this basically is a values issue. This principle is considered by many religious and secular organizations as the concept that a central authority should have a subsidiary function. That is, to provide only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. In other words, it means the State shall take action only if and insofar as the objectives of the proposed action cannot be sufficiently achieved by the communities -society- and can therefore, by reason of the scale or effect of the proposed action, be better achieved at the state level. It means that policies should always be made at the lowest possible level, and that the higher level should only legislate when there is unanimous agreement that uniform regulation is necessary.
For example, if an adult can’t provide for him or herself, ideally his family should be the first ones to care for her or him. In hard economic times we see many adult children moving back home to live with mom and dad. When I was working as an intern at Welfare Center 59 in Long Island City, New York in the early 60s, before any member of a family was considered eligible to receive welfare payments, there was a legal requirement that we had to prepare a “subsistence” budget for their closest relative. If it were considering an adult child for welfare, we had to have their parents provide information about their income and expenses, and if there income was over a certain amount, they had to pay the difference between what they made and what the welfare department determined was needed for them to live on and, the welfare department would deduct the parents’ contribution from payment the department had determined a single adult needed to live on. That policy was eliminated years ago, because they found that eventually the parents who had been providing the money ended up needing welfare assistance themselves. In cases where the parents weren’t able to contribute then the potential participant would have to approach a non-profit charity agency for money to live on.
Apparently, the Principle of Subsidiarity still has value today. I noticed recently that the principle was referred to in a four page letter that Congressman Paul Ryan sent to Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to alert him to some of the issues in House Budget Committee that he chairs and was passed by the House of Representatives for Fiscal Year 2012. I suspect that he was looking for an endorsement by the Archbishop, a fellow catholic. Ryan suggested that the Budget’s reform of Medicaid and other proposals were “…informed by the principle of subsidiarity” , and went on to quote from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church that instructs: “…it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what a lesser and subordinate can do.” The fact that the congressman used this quote surprised me because he has said on a number of occasions that he was inspired to go into politics by reading Ayn Rand books and, has instructed his staff to read Rand’s work if they wanted to understand how he thinks. As far as I know, Ayn Rand and her gospel of selfishness, is not included in the Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church.
Be that as it may, to the Archbishops credit, he did remind the congressman that,
“A singularly significant part of our duty as pastors is to insist that the cries of the poor are heard, and that the much needed reform leading to financial discipline that is recognized by all never adds further burden upon those who are poor and most vulnerable, nor distracts us from our country’s historic consideration of the needs of the world’s suffering people.” Amen.
- This is an academic article by Shari E. Miller, Carolyn J. Tice and Diane M. Harneh entitled: The Generalist Model: Where do the Micro and Macro Converge. Although the article is intended for professional social workers, I believe it can be useful for those of us who aren’t social workers, but wish to engage in social change at different levels. For further information contact Ms. Miller at her email address at the University of Georgia, Athens Georgia.
- Review by Michael Baxter of Charles E. Curran’s book , The Social Mission of the U.S. Catholic Church: A Theological Perspective. Published by Georgetown Press. As I was writing this section I thought, If Jesus, who shared our humanity, lived in the 21st century, he might have been a social worker. After all, during his three years of active ministry, he not only preached the essentials of loving your neighbor by responding to his/her corporal and spiritual needs, but he gave many examples of compassion for those who came to him in need (micro change). Not only that, on a macro level he was crucified because he was seen by civil and religious leaders of the time, to be a threat to their positions of power. In the words of a slogan of anti-war, civil rights, and anti-poverty movements of the 60s, Jesus was preaching, power to the people.
- Poverty, Race Research & Action Council (PRRAC)—As the title of this website indicates, it focuses on community action in the areas of race and poverty. It lists links to projects on: Housing, Poverty, Health, Civil Rights and l Human Rights. On this page on this webpage there are complete copies of articles published from 1993 through 2009. There are 201 articles, mostly regarding poverty, racism, and other issues that Jesus preached about.
African American Models of Community Organizing [PDF]. This is a research article by, Bonnie Young Laing, PhD, from Virginia Commonwealth University. After describing the methodology for the paper, she presents her analysis of the results and five theoretical concepts describing African American approaches to community organization that emerged from the data:
- cultural dynamics;
- locus of the community;
- organizing goals;
- mobilization methods;
- change strategies.
- One of the areas that the church has championed for years is Peace. From the time of my youth I can remember praying for peace at every Mass. One of the peace movements illustrious proponents is John Dear a Jesuit priest, peace activist, and the author of more than 20 books, most recently, A Persistent Peace, Put Down Your Sword, Transfiguration, You Will Be My Witnesses, Living Peace, The Questions of Jesus and Mohandas Gandhi. Here is a recent article of his that appeared on the National Catholic Reporters website. The title is, On the Galilee 72, by John Dear SJ.
- I believe the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes sums up Jesus’ and our mission as well as anything he taught in the gospels. The sermon clearly relates to social and individual change. Here are three articles by Jack Mahoney SJ that appeared on the website for Thinking Faith, a Jesuit magazine in the UK. I found each of these articles very thought provoking and nourishing. The author brings up issues that I never considered.
- Making the Reign of God a Reality, by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, National Catholic Reporter, July 22, 2011. Since Jesus spoke often of the Kingdom or Reign of God, and it is our role as Christians to acknowledge the Reign of God that is within us an spread this throughout the, a macro and micro task indeed, I thought Bishop Gumbleton’s article said this as well as anyone could and would be inspirational for our
- How to Liberate America from Wall Street Rule. “A Report from the New Economy Working Group”. As described on page 3, “This report addresses issues and options largely ignored by the current public conversation on financial reform. It confronts the need to not simply fix or reform Wall Street, but rather to create a Main Street-based money and banking system accountable to local communities and responsive to their needs. The intention is to redirect the conversation to deeper issues and options that the establishment has so far kept off the table. The essential issues are straightforward matters of values and power readily understood by most everyone—as this report intends to demonstrate.”The report was prepared by an ongoing New Economy Transitions discussion series organized by NEWGroup and the New Economy Network—an informal alliance of individuals and organizations. It is forty-one pages that are well worth reading, even though you might not agree with all their conclusions, our economy should be one of the major targets for change.
- Here’s a brief video of Keith Olberman interviewing Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton. The topic is America’s Widening Wealth Gap. This gap between the very rich and the very poor was not what Jesus had in mind when preached on the shores of Galilee.
- We Didn’t Start the Fire, a song by Billy Joel. It alludes to headline events from March 1949 (Joel was born on May 9 of that year) to 1989, when the song was released on his album Storm Front. The song’s title and refrain mention “the fire,” an allusion to conflict and societal turmoil. This particular rendition on youtube focuses on the war in Vietnam and war in general; Joel asserts that social conflicts can’t be blamed on his generation alone, as “the fire” has been “always burning since the world’s been turning.” As I viewed this video, I felt as if my whole life was passing before my eyes. PEACE!
More resources will be added.