Discretion in rural practice

I had a conversation at a conference earlier this week with a young social worker about to take up a position in the small town she and her family live in. The social worker retiring from that position has always advised the people she met professionally that she would not acknowledge them in public, to protect their confidentiality.

I take a differnet approach, so the young social worker now has two models to consider. Having grown up in a rural area where my parents were in business, I take the view that rural practice provides its own accountability: the person you sell a car to is the same person you play against in tennis and sit next to in church. In rural practice the people know who you are.

In urban practice you can drive home to the other side of town. I a country town you can’t, you are accountable for your actions, attitudes and behaviour. Far from finding this onerous, I have always found it easy and comfortable; there is no playing pretends. There is no need to purport to be perfect or special, no need to be an ‘expert’ in the hierarchical sense.

I tell the people I work with that I am required to protect their confidentiality and will not be discussing our work with anyone else. If they hello on the street I say hello, if they avert their gaze, I avert my gaze. If they stop to chat, I stop to chat too unless I’m pressed for time in which case I excuse myself and say so.

Rural practice is an wholistic way of living that does not require perfection but does require discretion and conducting oneself in an honourable way. Generally honourable conduct I would have thought, was a pre-requisite in any profession.

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