It Starts with You…

 

 

A few nights ago, I was out for dinner with a friend and I ran into a woman who I met before but who I did not know well. We had seen each other around town so we had formed enough of a connection that we greet each other with an acknowledging head nod and a wave. While I was eating and talking to my friend, she approached us and introduced herself. We spoke about the fact that we seem to know each other without really knowing each other. Then came the question that always inevitably arises when I meet someone new: “What happened to you?” I tell her that I was born prematurely which meant that my lungs weren’t fully developed and as I tried to breathe, I acquired brain damage as a result of a lack of oxygen to my brain. I explain to her that I am very fortunate though because my brain damage has only impacted my ability to walk. Following my answer, she said “But you seem so happy” to which I responded “I am. I love my life.” And I really do. I am so grateful for the life I have been gifted, and I am even grateful for the disability I have been gifted. I regularly say that I know at the very core of my being that this was no mistake. I have become the person I am today because of it. Living with a disability has gifted me a sense of perspective. It has helped me find my purpose.

What stood out for me though, was her initial response: “But you seem so happy.” Although I know her words were in no way ill intended, it reminded me that as human beings we need to practice checking our assumptions at the door, if we really want to connect with another. We have to be careful to examine the pre- conceived notions we carry, if we are to ever move toward a true sense of equality within our society. Why is it assumed that because I live with a disability that I am bound to be unhappy? Letting assumptions rule only serves to reinforce stigma and drives disconnection.

Changing the world really does start with each and every one of us. Check your assumptions at the door, and open the space for people to teach you about their experience, knowing that the vastness that is the human experience can never be contained to a series of labels and assumptions.

By suspending judgement we free ourselves and others. Here’s to radical openness and ever abounding love. It starts with you. Never doubt that.

Labels are for Jars…

 
 

Labels. We use them to order our experience. They help us make sense of our world, and orient ourselves in a seemingly unpredictable world. They provide us a sense of certainty and structure. They mediate our expectations of others and help us to formulate a sense of personal identity. These are all good things, and point to the use of labels in our lives. However, a problem arises when we become too rigid in our labelling. When the connotations of the labels we use perpetuate narrow mindedness and imprison us to a certain set of assumptions, which prevent from engaging in the process of personal expansion.

Labels themselves do not exist. They are social constructions. None of us were born with the labels we carry with us today. Rather, they have had them placed upon us, or we have placed them upon ourselves. Most of the time, they serve us well, but problems arise when labels become too rigid and narrow, for they can foster a sense of personal limitation and interpersonal disconnection. In other words, labels become problematic when we begin to see ourselves as being wholly defined by these constructed labels because we begin to fall victim to their various implications, relinquishing our sense of personal power in the process.

Let’s take for example, the label that has been placed upon me since the day I was born: disabled. Some common assumptions that come along with this label include: incompetent, helpless, powerless, incapable, confined, weak, defective, unable… the list goes on. It is true that I am disabled. My legs don’t move as fast as or work as well as those of others. I have fully accepted this as a fact of my life. However, I vehemently refuse to align myself with any of the assumptions that are typically associated with the label of disabled. In no way do I view myself as weak, incapable, powerless, or helpless. I never have and never will.

Labels require a large degree of fluidity and flexibility. They require a willingness to abandon the barriers perpetuated by assumption and a willingness to approach oneself and others with an open mind. Labels undoubtedly have their place, but when we become too attached to them and their perceived meanings, a sense of disempowerment, defeat and judgement can manifest.

Labels of the human experience are inherently limited, because they can never give you a sense of the whole picture. They can’t be taken at face value, because to do so would be a discredit to your sense of individuality and to ignore the uniqueness of each individual who crosses our path. To adhere to a label is to miss the opportunity for true connection, because they can never tell you what’s going on beneath the surface. Suffice to say, if you are looking for labels to tell you what’s on the inside, they best be left to the jars on the shelf.