Thoughts from the Field: Domestic Violence Advocates Are Optimists

by Erin Scott, February 8, 2013

Erin Scott, Associate Director of the Family Violence Law Center, participates in the Blue Shield of California Strong Field Project Leadership Development Program. CompassPoint delivers this customized program for leaders from California domestic violence organizations.


Like any other professionals who deal with human emergencies, domestic violence advocates face the realities of violence and pain on a daily basis. The coping mechanisms we develop can make us seem cynical and we often feel isolated from people who don’t work in similar fields.

So when I applied to the Strong Field Project's Leadership Development Program, I was primarily motivated by the opportunity to spend time with other people in the domestic violence field. I had experienced other leadership development trainings but had never been in that kind of reflective, information-sharing space with people, who like me, were committed to domestic violence work.

I anticipated that our conversations would feel relevant and useful. We would “get” each other, based on a shared understanding of the prevalence of domestic violence and its profound impact on our clients, our communities, and ourselves. We could talk about leadership with a collective intuitive sense of what would work and not work in a domestic violence organization. And we would have similar, sometimes very dark, senses of humor.

All of this has turned out to be true. As a participant in Cohort II of the Strong Field Project's Leadership Development Program, I have felt understood. I have gained tools I can bring back to my organization – like coaching strategies and new ways to manage change - and learned how to apply them to the particular setting of a domestic violence organization. And I have laughed, a lot!

But the most surprising thing I have learned through this program is that domestic violence advocates are optimists. I’ve been trying out “optimist” as an identity recently and have been met with mixed results (my husband had a good laugh about it and a co-worker asked, “Underneath the layers of sarcasm?”). But I have left every in-person meeting of Cohort II with my spirits buoyed by how deeply we believe in the possibility of a different world.

Underneath our dark humor, our gritty, practical approach, our sarcastic comments about the world's dysfunction, we do this work because we believe in change. We are deeply moved by what our clients overcome and what our agencies, with shoestring budgets and strong foes, accomplish every day. I will leave this program in June knowing that this group of unexpected optimists can change the world.


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