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.