Monday, August 29, 2016


I wrote a post a couple days ago about a young man who stood up for himself in a store. I wrote the post as it happened with myself as simply an observer to what when on, I was not an active participant in any way other than to respond when asked if I had witnessed what had happened. The comments which were posted both on this blog and on Facebook were quite positive but I did get a question which wasn't asked publicly. I have permission to do so here. The question:

"I don't understand how you could have let that clerk us the r word without speaking up yourself. Why didn't you do something?"

The reason I wanted to answer this question publicly is that I think that it's worth discussing. First let me give the short answer to that question. I didn't intervene because the remark was not made at me it was made at someone else and that someone else was taking action on his own. If I had intervened, my status in the hierarchy of how people see people, would have trumped his. This was his job, this was more meaningful because of the fact that he did it himself and because his voice was heard. Sometimes the most important thing to do is simply 'hush up' and let what happens happen. I can easily imagine situations where I would have inserted myself, but this wasn't one that needed me. He didn't need me. Well, he did, he needed me to let him be the primary actor in his own life.

One of the most challenging experiences I ever had educationally was taking courses in 'Feminist Approaches to Counselling and Therapy." It had me rethinking lots of things but one of the professors stated quite clearly a tenant which I have included in lecture after lecture and is a guiding principle of my own practise. "Never do work for your client that belongs to them."

Let me say that again: Never do work for your client that belongs to them.

We have to understand what our role is, what our work is, of course, but that then means learning what our role is not and what our work is not ... we need, in other words, boundaries. I believe that one of the biggest problems that people with intellectual disabilities have is that people keep leaping in and doing work that doesn't belong to them and thereby robbing people with disabilities of the experiences the need and letting the muscles of independence, non compliance and self advocacy (in its truest most personal sense) atrophy.

I didn't do anything because that what I was supposed to do. Sometimes inaction is the most important action you take.

He didn't need me.

He had himself.

And believe me, that was quite enough.


Andrea Shettle, MSW said...

Sometimes the most important task a person can do is to stand out of the way. Sometimes that's more empowering and, yes, more profoundly helpful than you might think. It's true no matter who it is whose path you're trying to leave clear, but can be especially important when it comes to people with disabilities and other people who are often marginalized or otherwise often not allowed to do their own thing in their own way.

Unknown said...

I learned it a long time ago as 'if you are working harder than the client on recovery, YOU are out of balance"....different setting, but same idea.
Rushing in and speaking FOR someone who is trying to speak for themselves changes the power, and the focus - you as the speaker become the focus...NOT the person who was claiming his own rights in his own voice.

You've got it right, Dave..and your blog is pretty effective at showing how you arrive at your decisions about what/when to act.

Emily and Laura said...

When my daughter (with dwarfism) was young, I had to learn to stand back and let her do things herself -- or, in her case, because she was shy, insist she do things herself. She didn't appreciate it at the time, but it's certainly paid off in the ensuing years. But yes, it's very hard to do that, and a lot of people dealing with folks with disabilities never learn it. We're all stronger if we speak for ourselves, even if it's hard at first.

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

He did good, you did good.

We should at least be more sensitive to these issues than people without experience of disability - treating others as they would want to be treated.