Role of server or friend?

One of the clarifications offered in introductory Social Role Valorization workshops and texts is the distinction between the role of server (whether paid or voluntary) and the valued social role of friend. Servers may indeed be friendly to the people they serve, but as long as they are in the role of server, they are not friend. We know what friendship entails. Many people who are societally devalued, and who have been isolated and perhaps cut off from freely-given relationships, may indeed be lonely and hungry for relationship. This real need does not however justify distorting and conflating the role of server and the role of friend.

With this in mind, consider two recent articles in the 26 April 2020 New York Times. One article, entitled ‘Be a friend to the elderly and get paid,’ describes:

“Papa, a health tech company that provides ‘grandkids on demand’ … Founded in 2018, Papa pairs older adults with college students and young workers who have common interests and hobbies … the Papa pals … make between $11 and $14 an hour, not including tips and covered expenses like gas, on a freelance basis. (Papa is currently available in 20 states; the company typically charges clients $20 to $25 an hour.)”

Whatever needs for relationship and companionship that vulnerable elders may have, Papa pals are not friends with the elders with whom they are matched. It is rather, in the words of the article, a ‘friendship business.’ The language of client and the discussion of pay rates, makes this evident.

Compare this with another article in the same edition of the newspaper, this one entitled ‘Still lives: Visual diaries from 15 photographers give a glimpse of life in a time of isolation,’ a series of photographs and text.

One of the diary entries is by Michelle Agins. When the pandemic hit the US, Agins left New York City to stay with the mother of a neighbor. The mother, Florence Patterson, who is 84 years old, lives in rural upstate New York, near the Canadian border. Patterson is offering hospitality and sanctuary to Michelle Agins. Patterson is described in the article in role terms, as “a retired executive, former real estate broker, a humanitarian and an activist.” Patterson is providing help to Agins, and is also receiving help. This speaks to the mutual role of friend. As Agins notes, “I’m grateful to be here with Ms. Florence.” Florence Patterson is receiving some of the very same kinds of help as the elders described in the previous article about the health tech company, but the roles and relationships are fundamentally different.

Posted on April 26, 2020 at 2:04 pm by MTumeinski · Permalink
In: Uncategorized

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