Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Eleventh Commandment

Several of the comments made to my post of March 23, Getting In—Getting Out, wondered if it was appropriate to laugh at the absurd situation I had gotten myself into as I attempted to unfreeze the doors of my car. Of course it is! I laughed at the absurdity of being stuck due to my on miscalculations. Of course, my laughter came after I had freed myself!

We humans have the habit of getting into absurd and ridiculous situations. That’s just part of being human. Albert Camus even postulated that life itself is absurd and I rather agree with him. So I think we have to be able to laugh at the silly positions in which we find our selves or risk going crazy.

Although I have mentioned the Eleventh Commandment in comments I have deposited on other folks' blogs, I don't believe I have written about it on my own. I suppose it is time that I did!

Shortly after I earned my Master of Science in Social Work (M.S.S.W.) degree at the University of Louisville’s Raymond A. Kent School of Social Work, I had an interview with the Director of Residential Service of what was then the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s Department for Social Services. I had been supported during my studies at Kent School partially by a stipend from the Department and it was time for me to “pay the piper.”

I had had a rather stellar career with the department. I had set up, trained, and supervised a unit of twenty-three (primarily) paraprofessionals (social service aides) to provide emergency services to 40,000+ “stand-by” cases that had no assigned social workers. These were families who were receiving financial and medical support from the Commonwealth of Kentucky via Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. For the most part, these families were functioning OK with the exception of the need for money. Of course, as with all humans, things don’t remain OK for ever and at time some of these folks placed “stand by” category would experience a crisis—anything from the AFDC being lost in the mail or stolen (and thus the need for emergency money or food) to more serious problems. My staff would provide emergency services and, if the problem were serious enough, transfer the case to a social services unit that would provide more in-depth services.

That unit was called “The Service Bank” and was the largest unit in the department. Of course, considering its size and the nature of the services it provided, many absurd situations developed. Then one day, the craziness came to us from the outside in the form of a change made by the Federal Government via Title XX of the Social Security Act. The category of “stand by” was no longer to be used in providing social services: a family was either to receive social services or not receive services. This, of course, changed the way the Service Bank operated and I switched the unit from providing emergency services to doing intake for new cases. That required a complete reorganization of the unit and re-training of the staff, all of which I planned and implemented. I renamed the unit “Service Intake,” which was then the only exclusive intake unit in the Commonwealth.

Those years with the Service Bank and the Service Intake unit are what earned me my "fame" that led to winning the stipend to attend Kent School.

So a couple of weeks after graduation, I found myself in the office of Director of Residential Service of the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s Department for Social Services being told that I was to be transferred from Field Services to Residential Services because the Commonwealth was court-ordered to develop a group home specifically for the treatment of what were then termed “emotionally disturbed” adolescents. I was to manage the first of these group homes.

I had never worked in residential services and was reluctant to do so; I had heard too many negative things about the camps they operated and the nature of their treatment programs. I cringed at receiving the assignment. Actually, my cringing began with the first words the director said to me: “Do you want to tell me where you think you want to work or shall we save time and I’ll tell you where you are going to work?”

The director recognized my reluctance and, after I unenthusiastically accepted the position, gave me a pep talk. It was during this pep talk that he shared with me what he called the “Eleventh Commandment for Social Workers: Thy Shall Not Take Thyself Seriously.”

Those words have impacted my life ever since I heard them As an army officer and as a social worker, I had taken myself, if not my jobs, very seriously. If I made what I considered to be a mistake, I would worry about it for days, if not months. If I felt I had made a poor impression on folks, I would fret about my actions.

During the thirty or so years since that interview with the director, I have learned that the Eleventh Commandment is not only for social workers but for everyone. The absurdity of life makes it inevitable that each of us find ourselves in weird and laughable situations. Thus I have learned to laugh at myself and the ridiculous elements of my life.

So, I join you in laughing at what happened to me when I got myself stuck in my car! I’m laughing with you. And I invite you to laugh at future bizarre situations into which I shall get myself and write about in this blog. And, finally, I invite you to take the Eleventh Commandment seriously in your life and practice laughing at yourself!


  1. Hi Nick-

    Like a bad penny, I'm back.


  2. Great to see you back, Thomas! I've really missed you!

  3. Great post Nick and an extra
    commandment that we can all use.
    Thanks for sharing that with us.
    Cheers, Merle.

  4. That is the first I had heard of that eleventh one and it's one that I have been keeping for years. It makes things so much better if we can laugh at ourselves. ec

  5. I truly like the idea of that 11th commandment. I also like the realization that I've been following it for years. Probaly the only one I haven't nroken!

  6. Merle—Thank you. I believe that laughter could solve a lot of problems in this world.

    Mreddie—I agree, I think life is much better when we can laugh at ourselves. Of course, sometimes the laughter comes in retrospect—after we have freed ourselves from an uncomfortable situation!

    Azsonofagun—So you’ve broken each of the other ten? Of course, at least in my thoughts (as Jesus said), I have broken all of the Ten myself.