Yes, it's true, I've been lecturing for a long time. I've literally spoken to hundreds of thousands of faces, and double that in ears, over the years. Yet I still get very nervous. This is particularly true when I am doing something a little different to an audience I'm not used to. I was asked to do a keynote presentation at a conference, which happened yesterday, on the issue of Justice and Disability. I knew that the audience would have human service workers but that there would also be a liberal smattering of law enforcement and justice professionals in attendance. I had a tiny voice screaming, 'yikes!!!!' in the back of my head all week.
I've been writing the talk for several weeks, organizing stories, putting together a flow based on a central message. As well, it's been a time of training people with disabilities in abuse prevention. So on a couple of occasions, when there was chat time with some of the people with intellectual disabilities going through the training, I've taken the time to ask, 'What should I say when I talk to the police about people with disabilities?" The question generated much more interest than I'd anticipated. So many had stories, most of them weren't particularly positive. Stories about reporting things to the police and not seeing any result from their actions. I explained that things were changing and that the mere fact that I was teaching police about people with disabilities and talking about the need for justice for all demonstrated that change.
One fellow said that he knew what I should say but he couldn't think of how to say it. He struggled a bit to get it out and then asked if we could talk again after the session. He was aware that I was soon to start and he freed me up to do what I had to do. I can forget to follow up on these conversations with the busyness of the work. This time, I remembered, and again, he struggled. I wrote down what he said right after he said it. I knew then, I had a 'kicker' that I could use near the end of my presentation. Here's what he said:
I want them, the police, when they talk to me, not to talk to me like they talked to the last person who had a disability, or all the other people with disabilities either, I want them to talk to me like I'm fresh.
I was awestruck. He wanted police to talk to him beyond prejudice, beyond expectations, beyond their own history. He wanted them to start fresh with him as a person, a person with a disability yes, but a unique person with a disability. There is such good advice to all of us here. I carry a history of expectations into every interaction I have with someone with an intellectual disability. And every new person I meet is, well, a new person. My experience helps me prepare but it doesn't enable me to meet 'this guy' in 'this place' with 'this disability'. This fresh person.
You know, I think that is what every individual in a minority wants. 'Don't expect me to be like the last gay person you met.' 'Don't expect me to be like the last black person you met.' Don't expect me to be like the last Christian you met.' Don't expect me to be anything but me. I want to be fresh.
New person. New start.
Fresh situation. Fresh ideas.
My goal for myself here is clear. I wanna 'get fresh' more often and thus reduce the likelihood that I'll ever, personally, go stale.