Introversion, The Titanic, and the commitment to forge ahead: What may come from consistency and persistence

I’m an introvert. Who’s with me? If you are, you’ll understand that my inclination is always to be on my own, or, at least, in very (very) small groups.

But, I believe, even we introverts have a duty to use our voices, to speak up loudly and clearly on behalf of those whose voices often go unheard. Not to speak for them, or over them, but, instead, to empower them to speak their truth through us.

As an introvert, isolation is rather like a retreat. I find my strength when I am alone. I do my best thinking when I am surrounded by silence. And, I am most creative when not interrupted by other people and the distractions that come along with them.

But, though isolating myself works well for the current COVID-19 pandemic, it’s not so good for the work I’ve felt called to do these past 30+ years—after all, one can do only so much community work, without actually being out in the community.

Indeed, this work—asset-based community development—requires that I step outside of my comfort zone, and smack dab into the foray of advocacy. And, I’ve done just that. But, to what end.

I confess that, lately, I’ve been feeling discouraged. And frustrated. I’ve even questioned the relevance of my years of work. Even though I’ve witnessed “amazing,” over and over and over again, I’ve found myself questioning. Even doubting.

So little, it seems, has changed over the past 30-something years. When it comes to how disability support professionals are trained to support people who live with intellectual and developmental disabilities*, a focus on assets rather than on needs—“a focus on what’s strong, not what’s wrong”1—still seems to be a difficult concept to grasp. It seems that people being supported away from agencies and agency-run programs, in a life of their own design, is still an elusive dream for many.

Over the past 30+ years, I’ve used my voice on too many boards of directors, committees, task forces, and informal networks to count. I’ve helped to shape and re-shape how services and supports are provided to people who live with disabilities and their families. I’ve written innumerable advocacy letters, articles, editorials, and letters to the editor, and papers for various journals. I’ve made presentations to groups of two to five people, 20 to 100 people, and many hundreds. And, since 1989, the year that, thanks to John McKnight, I found them, neither my message nor my voice has ever wavered….

People who live with disabilities have gifts and strengths and capacities that their communities need.

There are gaps: their communities have a weakness—a gap—that only their gifts and strengths and capacities may fill.

Without the meaningful contributions of all people, a community will never enjoy its full strength, its full potential. When every single person’s gifts are welcomed, embraced and meaningfully utilized, we all enjoy strong, healthy community. John McKnight taught me that.

This has been and continues to be my foundational belief. It is the lens through which I view the world, my community, my family, and my work. It (along with my faith) colours what I think, and say, and do.

But, what happens when, after years of consistent and persistent messaging, the messenger remains unheard. When the powers that be loudly and confidently announce that the status quo is the way to go. When long-held, institutional beliefs would have people with intellectual and developmental disabilities being held down by archaic beliefs. When ableism runs rampant, and people who live with disabilities are seen as objects of pity and charity, rather than as people with something meaningful to contribute.

What happens then?

Well, I’d say, we might want to reassess the objective. If it’s still valid (and I most certainly believe it is), move on. Find a route that has no (or at least fewer) barriers. Make a new way. Meet new people who are pursuing the same objective—or who would, if asked. Get off The Titanic—immediately! (Because we all know what happened to The Titanic.) Step out of your comfort zone, consistently and persistently—even if you’re an introvert.

Then, watch as the people around you reap the benefits: a community that is strong and healthy, because all people are fully aware of their gifts and strengths, and they all have appropriate and adequate support to share them with the world in a meaningful way.

Today, I believe I still have a few more things to do—more “amazing” to achieve. Who’s with me?

-END-

*I realize that in today’s world, there is much discussion about the use of the term “disability,” as the word itself feeds into the discrimination against people whose abilities are different from what is perceived as the norm. I use this word because most people who will read this post will understand what I mean by this term.

1 Thank you, Cormac Russell, Director of Nurture Development, for this most memorable phrase.

Afterword

Isn’t it awesome that the law of loving one’s neighbour comes next only to the law of loving God!

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” – Matthew 22:36-39

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