I'm a youth worker. It's my job to work with young people. More than that I believe it to be my calling. And normally I think I'm pretty good at it... Except I don't think I'm made for all youth work, not all youth work is the same, and not all youth workers have the same strengths.
The real secret though is this:
... I'm scared of young people.
There. I said it. But let me explain.
I'm not scared of all young people. Rather I just think my strengths lie more with those who come to me, those with whom I have a mutual agreement that we have come to share the same space and to learn from each other. For me, it doesn't matter what that learning entails, I am happy to adapt and learn from them if not them from me. Either that or they have found a safe place that I happen to have a hand in facilitating. If it's not young people coming to me, I can manage to approach them in smaller groups, but it still makes me quake a little. What really scares me is even the idea of intruding into the territory of larger groups of young people, particularly ones who don't know me from Adam (whoever he might be), and even more so when they might be bigger than me or have something to prove.
I used to do it as part of my job in Glasgow. In my first few years there a few of us went out on the streets every Friday night with the intention of just chatting with whatever young people we met. There was a procedure, a support team, and a trained partner there, as well as a process for reporting our encounters. The more time we spent on the streets, the more we got to know the young people hanging around, and we spent time with them as they drank and smoked, as they talked rubbish and as they poured out their hearts about the unfairness of the "polis" having poured out their last bottle of Buckfast. I would probably not say that I ever really enjoyed it, but I had utmost faith in my team and I saw the fruit of it as time went on.
Looking back, I think things began to change on one of those nights though.
One such Friday night I was out with Chris, and we were chatting with those we came across, bantering away, and all was "normal", until we came across a young man we'll call Adam (probably not the same Adam that everyone might not know me from...). "Adam" was older and bigger than most of the young people we came into contact with each week, but we knew him and we chatted nonetheless. This particular evening he'd either not eaten as much as normal, or he'd drunk more, because he claimed to not know who we were, and for whatever reason he took a disliking to me. Out of nowhere he had me round the neck with the intention of me stopping breathing. What do you do at that point?
The way I remember it, I chose to wait and let it play out. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't my first reaction. In my younger days (we're talking nearly 10 years ago now!) I was a lot more confrontational, and even though he was bigger than me I am certain my sobriety was in my favour and I could have put him down. Anyway, professionalism kicked in, as did my fear of the paperwork such action might entail, so I went to plan B: Waiting... after all I could always revert to my initial instincts if needed. I'm sure I was bricking it, but Chris jumped into action and used the gifts God gave him: His words and his Norn Irish charm. It worked. Chris talked him down, we hastened away, and next time we met "Adam" he had no recollection of the evening... More than that, within weeks on a Saturday afternoon I seem to recall he stopped another of his contemporaries cracking me over the head with a bottle as Chris and I walked to the cinema.
So why divulge my fear today? Well I've just come back from the park with my wife and kids, and having walked all the way round it we returned to the play area to discover that nearby was a large group of older young people (more than 12; 16-20 year olds), who were hanging out.
I have no problems with young people gathering, I have no problem with them looking for a place that is theirs, and I even have no problem with their smoking (and potentially, though unconfirmed drinking... I do have more concerns about whatever drugs they were buying from the dealer that pulled up, but that's another conversation). I have more objection to the blatant disregard for theirs and others' safety by riding their mopeds round the park helmet-less... Especially near where my kids are playing.
Another youth worker might have approached them and started a conversation, maybe started a relationship that could impact beyond today. But that wasn't me today.
Maybe that's something I need to think about, and maybe I can rediscover that youth worker in me. Maybe it's a message I need to think about and work out if it's the next part of my work here.
If it is, I'll need help.
Remarcable is one man blogging about Youth Work, Theology, Family, Life and those other random things that come to mind.