I want to talk about a general idea today using some specific examples. The general idea being focusing our energy outward--trying to change/control everyone around us-- vs. focusing our energy inward--trying to change/control ourselves. I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Have you noticed that as a culture we're a bit obsessed with "awareness"? We want to spread "awareness" about everything--cancer, bullying, animal cruelty, poverty, prejudice and so on. Spreading awareness is definitely a key element in my Special Needs Spotlight series. So I want to be clear, I do not think the spreading of awareness is a bad thing. If it wasn't for people who tried to spread "awareness" we would likely still live in a country with segregated schools and women who couldn't vote. We always have and always will need people who are willing to speak out on behalf of inequality and injustice. Real and effective change has come about because of people willing to spread 'awareness.'
The thing is, we can't ALL be aware of EVERYTHING at ALL times. This is impossible. Even more impossible is knowing how to act and respond when approached with something we have been made "aware" of. For example, in the Special Needs Spotlight I have tried to bring some awareness about how people can approach and interact with people who have special needs. Even as a special needs mom I've learned a lot from reading other people's preferences--and there is a general theme as well that most of us advise. But at the same time, I think it can create this anxiety like, "Oh, here's a kid in a wheelchair....ok, ok I read this...ok just ask what happened. Or wait, that's rude. Let my kids ask the questions?.. oh my gosh stop staring... I know I'm not supposed to stare. Or stare and smile? That's a thing right? Ahhhh..."
It's funny because even with all my experience I too have had my moments where I recognize that I'm being awkward around a disabled person because I'm trying really hard not to do and say the right thing. How's that for backfiring?
I had started writing a post about how frustrating it is to watch people constantly ignore my older daughter when we're out in public, while showering Lamp with praise and compliments! (I still want to write this post). But I realized I was sharing this information hoping to effect some actual change in the people who are around us, who might read this, etc. That's when I realized my focus was all wrong. Or at least partially wrong.
If I'm too concerned with "awareness" in terms of helping other people know how to react to my children, that means I'm constantly focusing my energy outward, on other people instead of focusing my energy inward, on my children. I can't keep the waves from crashing, but I can try and help my kids stay afloat.
Lets run with this water metaphor... It's like being in a boat that's slowly filling with water. If I'm more concerned with the water filling the boat and making sure everyone is "aware" of this terrible danger, then my kids will drown. I have very little influence over the people we see on a daily basis. Sure, friends and family I might actually be able to sway, but not the dozens of others we see for seconds or minutes of the day passing by in the grocery store or at the library. I can't let everyone know the right way to do everything as far as my kids are concerned--I don't have the time energy or resources--the metaphorical boat is too big.
But I do have influence over my children as their mother. Not only can I throw them life-jackets, I can show them how to put them on. I can provide and model positive behavior and coping mechanisms--which will also include letting other people know when they've crossed a line and that they're being rude. I can help PSP and Lamp learn not to rely on others for their self-worth but to carry themselves with dignity and pride no matter what. This also means that I even let them experience a little of the rocky waters so they can learn to be better swimmers all by themselves.
Do you find that as a society we have started to place the responsibility on behavior outward? Meaning we expect others to know how to act/behave/talk the "right" way in every situation. What about placing the responsibility on ourselves for our reactions? For example having a little more tolerance and patience when people are being unintentionally offensive and rude--or even intentionally offensive and rude? I wanted to talk about this specifically after I shared a TedTalk about objectifying disabled people a few weeks ago. While I agree with the speaker Stella Young, who is disabled, that when we put disabled people on a platform--telling them how brave they are for example--that even though it may be well intentioned, it actually does them harm. As the speaker pointed out (I'm paraphrasing) When people congratulate you for getting out of bed in the morning they set the bar very low. Personally I think she has some great points! On the other hand a few people commented that they thought she was being overly sensitive because obviously, most people were just trying to be nice. I could see where they were coming from as well... I'd love to hear your thoughts on this matter!