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An issue of common sense

Sat., Feb. 6, 2010

Roy Harrington, of WSU’s Area Health Education Center in Spokane, is shown on the balcony outside his office. (Jesse Tinsley)
Roy Harrington, of WSU’s Area Health Education Center in Spokane, is shown on the balcony outside his office. (Jesse Tinsley)

Roy Harrington believes we must listen to each other’s stories to solve our problems

Roy Harrington, 63, has been in social services work for nearly 42 years, including 16 years in a leadership role within the children’s administration of Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services.

He now works on family and community health issues for Washington State University-Spokane.

In workplace and community meetings, Harrington has long been known as a truth-teller, often saying aloud words that others fear to say.

In a recent “Wise Words” interview, Harrington examined the country’s ongoing financial – and existential – crisis.

•My dad and mom were children of the Depression, so there was a lot of consciousness about being careful with money. My parents, very religious people, felt that what you have the privilege of earning, you need to share with others.

•I carried these messages: Save it, pay cash, don’t pay interest. Work hard, don’t be fussy about the job you get, and earn what you are paid. There’s no job beneath you.

•One of my dreams was to pay cash for an automobile. But that meant you’d have to save money. I was never very good at it, until the last few years.

Have I ever paid cash for an automobile? I have. Last June. It’s a 2005 Mazda truck. It felt really good to write them a check.

•We’ve gotten out of the habit of listening. A lot of it has been driven because of the plenty that we have had. If you have plenty, you think in more individualistic terms. When things are tougher, we have to learn how to be interdependent.

To be interdependent, you have to learn each other’s story. You can’t do that if you’re not listening.

•When I first went into the juvenile offender business, I focused on the deficits. Why are these people having problems? It must be because they haven’t pulled on their bootstraps hard enough.

You get into this judgmental way of looking at people, when you focus on the deficits.

•The families and kids I’ve had contact with over the years have taught me the importance of “shut up and listen.” And don’t make assumptions. Quit putting people into categories.

•If you realize every person is worthy of dignity, how does that change how you act? You smile at people. You open a door for somebody. You don’t flip people off when you’re driving. You compliment people. You ask questions.

But don’t ask the question if you don’t want to listen to the response. The response might be a long one.

•I’m 63 and I’m sick of the gotcha games. It’s a race to the bottom.

•In (social services), there has been a tendency to see these groups of problems, and you advocate for money at the state level. You advocate at the federal level. You get dependent on federal or state largess, and forget about the resources we have around us.

•What I’ve seen emerge in social services is a youth development movement, where they are saying, “Look you old farts, there is a different way to think about this. The money is nice, but we’re not going to put ourselves in a position where all of our actions are dependent on whether you give us money.”

•We need a more holistic approach to how we think about people. You can’t just think about a person as a substance abuser or a child abuser or a person with a mental issue and then send them to three different places to get those issues fixed. How do they exercise their own resilience when we create those barriers?

•I’ve never been the kind of person who could worship at the foot of bureaucracy. Bureaucracies have now closed ranks. They are not permitting truth-telling. When you shut down, you can’t survive.

•Part of the problem is we take ourselves way too seriously. If I’m not there to take care of this, or take care of that, it’s all going to fall apart. Well, that’s a bunch of nonsense.

•I watch national news – sometimes. But I’m not interested in spending that kind of time on it. I’ve got a grandson. And my hobby is woodworking.

•The financial meltdown got started because the bankers and the people on Wall Street got greedy. We fought two wars off the books. It created repercussions for all of us.

•The meltdown isn’t sustainable. Our unemployment is 10 percent. This society could not sustain a Depression-era rate of 25 percent unemployment. Society would come apart at the seams.

•If it gets much worse, we citizens will put a stop to it. We’ve had about enough. We will come together, regardless of this nonsense of whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, and we will put a stop to it

•I live in a cul-de-sac out north in Spokane County. My neighbor next door to me is an arch right-winger.

I got such great pleasure during the 2004 campaign. I bought myself a John Kerry hat, and I bought him a George Bush hat. We would come to where our half acres connected – him in his Bush hat and me in my Kerry hat – and we’d have a conversation.

His family was important to me. And my family was important to him. My wife made pickles and gave it to them, and his family made jam and gave it to us.

Those are the relationships that matter. Those kinds of things will create intolerance for this nonsense. We will, as a community, as a society, come together and force a correction. I’m hopeful.

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