In the abuse prevention workshop we establish a set of ground rules right off. The first one, 'Everyone Is Valuable' begins a discussion about how to show someone that they are valuable or important. I am always moved at the kindness and generosity of the people with disabilities who attend these workshops. They talk about kindness, and helpfulness, and courtesy, and supportiveness. We go until we get to 'listening'. Now that I'm in a wheelchair, I say, 'As someone with a disability, I know how sometimes people don't listen very well to those of us with disabilities.' Without exception the group nods a deep agreement. They get it. They know I get it.
Then there is a brief discussion about how in this class, in this place, we will show that we value each other and we value each voice. We know that some take longer to speak. We know that some need courage to speak. We know this, we appreciate any and all contributions. It's a discussion I've had, literally, thousands of times in teaching this class, since I first started teaching it over 25 years ago. Occasionally, over those years and those thousands of classes, this 'first rule' causes a magical thing to happen.
During the discussion about feelings, we were talking about 'scared' ... what makes people scared. Several people had answered and there were many eager participants. I was signaled by a woman, at the back of the room who obviously had something to say. She speaks so softly, she speaks so carefully, she speaks with great effort. Words do not come easy to her. The room turned to her and then something magical, they waited with an almost spiritual quiet. Not a word was spoken, no one rustled, no one whispered, no one interrupted. They waited, I waited, to hear what she had to say. The staff sitting next to her, leaned down to hear the words as the softly left her lips.
When she finished speaking towards the waiting ear of the staff she looked up and thus signaled the staff to repeat what she had said, in answer to the question, 'what scares you?' she answered simply, 'being left out.'
Her words hung in the air, we all knew that the space that was made, the time that was given, did indeed communicate that we all valued her voice, that we all were enriched by her participation. I looked at her face in the moments after she had been heard. It was a face that reflected a grateful heart ... grateful that others took the time, that others created the space, that others waited for her words to come from her mouth. It was a moment of magic.
A moment that reminded me, as one who speaks words quickly, how important it is to stop, look and listen in interaction with others. We all knew, even the staff observers, what she meant. We all know what it is to be left out. We all know the pain of being one amongst many. Her words reminded us to not do unto others what we would not have done to ourselves.
A voice was heard.
And magic was made.