My middle and third children have a friend who has included a quote with her photo online. The quote is by Neil Marcus…
Disability is not a brave struggle or courage in the face of adversity. Disability is an art.
Now, I’ve not yet met a person who has a ‘disability’ and loves to be told that they’re amazing or brave or special or beautiful or clever or…because they can’t do some of the things someone else can. I am a parent who doesn’t really get much of a boost from being told I’m great at it just because I happen to have children who can’t see, especially by strangers. Having said that, if a person who has lived with me in some form of close relationship and/or observed my parenting as it occurs, and then says that it’s great, I may be a little chuffed. My children, likewise, will be encouraged by acknowledgement of their work and achievements; but if all the speaker knows of them is that they exist but can’t see…not much to be enraptured with there.
My children don’t see being blind as an adversity. I don’t see having children who are blind as being an adversity. In my case of course, it was not what I had imagined or knew much about, but my children have never known any different. So, what is adversity? My dictionary search suggests that the origins of the word (from French and Latin) meant to turn towards, be opposite (adverse) and the like. Being a person who can’t see or having children who can’t see isn’t adverse to us, opposing us, turning towards us; it is how we are, how it is, the direction we are travelling already.
So, what is our/my adversity?
I remember some years ago talking to a friend who gets around in a wheelchair. I was discussing with her the fact that the hazard and directional tiles that are installed to encourage independent travel (and possibly more safe travel) for those who are blind are often not placed correctly as those installing them don’t realise there is a particular way they are used, and don’t seek to be informed. During the course of the conversation though, she mentioned that they are often a risk to her as she can be thrown from her chair as she travels over them (like corrugation on a gravel road, I imagine!). I was sharing my new learning about her sometime-experience-in-life when child number one mentioned that the phone boxes installed to encourage independent use of a public phone for chair users can be a hazard for those who use a cane, as they don’t reach the ground where the tip is (bump of head, shoulder, face). What do I see in these things? Environmental and societal adversity or disability.
Similar adversity occurs in the school ground, within the education ‘system’ (teaching method, delivery, reception and learning difference, work production, submission method etc.); in the health and medical environment; in the myriad sporting genres. I guess I needn’t go on.
In all honesty, my adversity is those who see me as their adversity! And I am the adversity that someone else faces.
Realising who we are averse to and who is averse to us, or realising what is adverse to us or another is not enough though. If, in adversity, we (person, family, culture, environment, system…) only recognise that we are in a ‘face-off’, we may do battle; we may control/conform; we may add programs, equipment, beliefs etc. to others, compounding responsibility and requirements. Alternatively, if after recognising that we’re facing adversity we communicate our desires and needs and goals and experience and expertise each with the other, perhaps we can unlock a new pathway we walk together, facing the same direction. Not turned toward each other in opposition, but together turned toward a common goal, destination; an agreed path; by a new or negotiated and amalgamated system.
I think that I’m not opposed to adversity, mine or yours (but I don’t like it!). I am opposed to remaining averse to each other on all things. If we must walk or desire to walk together, we will most likely need a new mode of walking and possibly a new route or even goal to walk along and towards. Continuing along our familiar but separate paths, in our familiar but separate ways, attempting to impose these ways and paths onto those we are averse to will exacerbate not relieve adversity.
We each have adversities in life. Perhaps the question is not what they are so much as what will I do when they are revealed. Am I a heel-digger or a malleable, teachable listener and adapter and path-turner? Independently individualistic or a community-minded team player.
Permanent and persistent adversity may not live well in community, but it can be a trigger for turning towards it.