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Mentoring Skills: Social Distance

In this issue we are addressing something called Social Distance. No, it’s not maintaining a six foot perimeter or wearing a mask, sometimes in your car, when you’re alone… but I digress. Social distance has the idea of separation due to the distance between 2 social environments which then causes difficulty when they come together. A probation officer who lives in an upper middle class neighborhood may have problems connecting with a client that has grown up in the hood and is now living there again after being released from prison. The opposite is true as well but we don’t often consider the issue from that direction. Here are two statements that let me know this issue may need to be dealt with.

“People don’t get me”

One possible response to this statement is “Yes they do, you just suck as a person.” I don’t recommend this reply but it does have the possibility of being true. In the business world this would sound like “If you’re not winning right now, it means you’re losing and the market doesn’t like what you’re putting out.” Adjusting socially is a real challenge especially after doing a lot of time in prison. The rules out here are different and people are not interested in adjusting to you – you need to make the decision to learn about the environment you’ll be spending time in and adjust to it.

Probation: Learning about the system and developing an institutional lens can go a long way. Most people under supervision operate off of poor information and assumptions passed down from others. If you’re going to be attached to a PO for the next 5 years you might as well learn and adjust to them. Nobody is being paid to care or adjust to your personal life so that the distance is minimized.

Employment: I once heard a reentry court participant say “Me and my boss, we come from two different worlds.” There’s a lot in that statement. My guess is that it is most likely true, but so what. If you’re the employee then this means you are coming into the employer’s world – guess who needs to adjust.

The bottom line is this social distance thing is real, for everybody. This means the people that learn to adjust and deal with the distance probably make the most progress when it comes to advancing and enjoying life out here. This is why mentoring is so important because it gives individuals an opportunity to gain a different perspective rather than sticking to the bad information they’ve been consuming. Hopefully we can help others see things through a different lens.

Happy mentoring!

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