Lesson 3 – The Caretaker: Selfless Acts
Reflect on what it means to be considerate of others and how your journey away from addictions will affect those involved in your life.
Listen to Elaine Grinnell’s story and reflect on what it means to live in a supportive community. Experience the feelings that emerge from doing a selfless act of kindness. Use these links to access the available resources with this lesson: Elaine Grinnell Biography, History of the Jamestown S’Klallam, Core Values Exercise, and the Historical Trauma Resource Sheet.
“Reach out to others in your extended family.”
– Elaine Grinnell
Being the caretaker involves placing another person front and center in your life. It means caring for other people’s needs, safety, or security, sometimes before even considering your own. Being a caretaker is a selfless act; a caretaker makes the statement, “I care enough about you to support you, and to sometimes put your needs before my own.”
Being a caretaker requires you understand and embrace the feeling called empathy. An empathetic person has the ability to imagine what life is like for someone else. Seeing the world through someone else’s eyes is an act of kindness. Addictions can thwart our ability to feel empathy towards others, and we may even neglect or hurt the very people we cherish most.
“Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.”
Explain what this quote means to you. Describe a time when you felt someone judged you without knowing the circumstances. Share a time when you criticized someone without considering their feelings about a situation. Describe how you think empathy played a part in each of these examples.
Native Americans as Caretakers
“We have services now. We all know where we can go in order to get them. We have counseling services. We have family services. We have education. We have addiction services. That’s what our tribe is all about…is helping our own people.” – Elaine Grinnell
We build empathy by caring for ourselves and for other people. Native American people are giving and caring people. This is exemplified in how we live our lives — we hold giveaways at special events, have honoring ceremonies as a means of recognizing special people, and our tribes recognize the importance of providing systems of support to tribal members and others.
“We have our sister tribes of Port Gamble and Lower Elwha. We work together to protect our fisheries and all of our natural resources, you know. We work together on our language and education. We help each other. We may have something they don’t. We share then. That is maximizing your natural resources.” – Elaine Grinnell
The Giving Challenge
If you remember the saying “random acts of kindness,” or the movie quote “pay it forward,” you’ll understand the idea for this exercise. The Giving Challenge is an exercise to examine what it feels like to be a caretaker. This challenge asks you to practice a variety of “giving” acts, first by doing something kind for yourself, then for someone close to you, then to a casual friend or acquaintance, and lastly to a stranger.
Giving to others can be a bit risky. You don’t know how others will react to a caring gesture; will they be skeptical or appreciative, insulted or grateful? But taking emotional risks is an exercise that helps to build emotional wellness. It’s also the first step to repairing broken relationships that often result from addictive behaviors. So take the challenge and see what it feels like to spread kindness to yourself and others!
◊ First, do something special for yourself – What have you done for yourself lately? Self-care is a critical step to maintaining wellness. Think about the things you’ve put off for lack of time, cost, or because you felt undeserving. Decide on something you’ve always wanted, or wanted to do, then look in the mirror and way to yourself, “I’m worth it!” Afterwards, share your thoughts about the experience either in a personal journal, or with a peer.
◊ Second, do something special for someone you care deeply about – Is there someone in your life who deserves a special surprise? Is there an elder who would love to spend the day with you, or a child who needs a bike fixed? Can you prepare dinner for single parent, or write a poem to someone who would appreciate a confession of your feelings? After you’ve completed this second gesture, share your thoughts about the experience either in a personal journal, or with a peer.
◊ Third, do something special for an acquaintance – Mow the lawn for a neighbor, donate a good children’s book to your child’s teacher, or treat a co-worker to lunch. Reflect on how this made you feel. Do you feel closer now that you’ve done something special for that person? Share your feelings either in a journal or with a peer.
◊ Finally, do something special for a stranger – Pick up the tab for a stranger’s coffee, tuck a dollar bill into a book you return to the library, handout a restaurant gift certificate to a total stranger. For this one you might also consider volunteering your time at a social service agency or spend time reading at a retirement home. And again, after you’ve completed this fourth act of kindness, share your thoughts about the experience either in a personal journal, or with a peer.
Reflection: Reflect on this exercise and answer the following questions.
1. How did it make you feel to be a Caretaker?
2. Did the joy of helping another outweigh any sacrifice you made or the cost of passing out an act of kindness?
Make a commitment to do something nice for yourself and for someone else every day!