"I feel stupid all the time. I didn't feel stupid today."
This may be the best compliment I've ever gotten from someone with a disability who attended one of my self-advocate sessions this year. We had a short conversation after that statement was made. It was bit of a rush because the class was over and their ride was impatiently waiting for them to come. What made them feel stupid wasn't the regular kind of challenges and obstacles that are put in front of people with intellectual disabilities, no, this person lived within a system, with paid support providers, who made them feel stupid all the time.
I watched them leave and I saw the angry face of the staff who'd been kept waiting a few moments. Those few moments, the face showed angrily, were an inconvenience. The person I'd been speaking to was an inconvenience. Paid time or no, that time did not belong to the individual in service, it belonged to the staff who clearly had better things to do.
It concerns me that our system is set up to serve people with intellectual disabilities but ends up serving others needs:
- for employment
- for power
- for paper
- for social contact with other staff
- for control of the unruly
Of course I know that there are good staff out there, a lot of them. I know that. This person must have in their lives staff who are sensitive and who take time. That's the scariest part of this. The deep, deep, caring of of some of the best people in the world wasn't enough for them to feel relief from a sense of inadequacy. It's not enough that some are good. It's not enough that many are good.
We all know, from living in the real world, that sometimes it can take just one person to make us feel small, and stupid, and ugly, and worthless. We all know that no matter how many people love us and support us, that that feeling of being utterly and completely unworthy can dog us for a lifetime.
This is what needs to govern our days.
"I pledge today that I will control my temper and my prejudices. I pledge today that I will make time to make others feel valuable and worthy. I pledge today that my tone will flow from my intentional desire to be respectful. I pledge today that I will watch my words, govern my actions, and control my impulse to impatience. I pledge today, to be a good person in relationship to those I serve, those I work with, and myself."
I read this every morning when I get up.
But I need to be reminded.
Because I am a human being and human beings have a penchant for cruelty and domination and anger. Human beings who have power over other human beings most often abuse it. I know that.
I've been hurt before.
That is lesson enough.
So I remind myself what it is to be in relationship to others. To be in service to others.
Because one good person isn't enough.
Two aren't enough.
We need to strive for there to be enough voices within the social service system that give the message of worthiness and value and importance to those who get constant messages of disapproval and unwelcome out there. We need to be safe harbour.
We. Need. To. Be. Safe. Harbour.
We are or we aren't.
I choose to try each day to end the day, without blood on the beach.