Humility Is the Utility for Power

When I was a child, I got to know the local utility company very well in our little hometown.  Because my stepfather spent more time in the local tavern than managing the family budget, getting our electricity turned off was a common occurrence. Whenever this happened, my mom would somehow scrape and borrow enough money to pay the past due bill. She and I would then make the two-mile trek to the utility office to get our power restored.

Inside the small lobby of the utility office were two glass windows-one had a sign saying “Payments” and the other one was labeled “Delinquent Payments.”  Our window never had a line in front of it, so I figured it was mostly reserved for us. The woman who sat behind this window looked like she hated her job or perhaps she just didn’t like interruptions. Whenever we came to her window, she never had to ask for our last name or address; instead, she would just pull out her clipboard, glance at it, and tell us what we owed. 

After my mom paid her, the woman would usually lecture us on how future late charges and turn-on fees could be avoided if payments were made on time. Mom would then apologetically thank the woman who often responded with a sigh and replied with something like, “Let’s hope this gets you back on track this time.” I never remember her saying “You’re welcome” or “Thank you for bringing this up to date; we appreciate your business, etc.”

This experience reminds me of how our recovery campuses are like power stations, and we are the utility workers. The people we serve are our customers who are doing the hard work of recovery. Their work requires lots of energy because they often reside at the intersection of shame, guilt, grief, and sadness. They come to us to get their power restored. And our primary business purpose is to empower them.

Unlike the “delinquent payment” lady who sat behind the glass window clutching her clipboard and authorizing who got power, we do our best empowering work when we operate from a utility of humility. When we can step back from needing to be the expert or person in charge and when we can be a little vulnerable (human) ourselves, then we can empower the people we serve to remember who they are; discover their answers; and contribute their gifts.

So, in order to gauge the recovery level in our empowering grid, here are a few questions to consider.  Are we finding ways to mitigate the power imbalances between us and the people we serve? Are we doing more mentoring than monitoring? Are we inspiring people to recover and honoring them as the experts in their lives? Are we validating their strengths and asking them open-ended questions? Are we offering them choices and engaging with them in relationship and community? Are we seeing a power surge of recovery and resilience outcomes from a utility of humility? If we can answer a resounding “YES” to all of these questions, then we’re doing what we get paid for… giving the power switch to our guests – the people we serve. 

Contributed by: Chris W. Martin, Crestwood Director of Learning and Performance