I attended a very eye opening lecture at Lesley University given by Donna Hicks, Ph.D. who earns her living helping to resolve conflict in the embattled areas of the globe. Her lecture was on the importance of first treating others with dignity. Dignity she explains is something we are all born with and so is to be granted regardless of any differences we may have with another. When our dignity is taken away, this is when we fight back to give our selves the self-worth that is being yanked out from under us. When we are treated with dignity, trust can be gained and then useful understandings can be had where resolutions can be formed. This is the basis of all the negotiations she partakes in on the global level.
This idea of dignity is important as we look at how it is that we interact with people who have to deal in a world of being seen as “disabled.” Let me begin by telling a little bit of a story here.
Years ago, I was having a relaxed dinner with a friend of mine when we were talking about the effects my upcoming divorce was going to have on my life. Being a person who was himself once married to a disabled woman, he soothingly suggested that I use my mental health “diagnosis” to get disability payments.
It was during a more recent phone discussion that another friend of mine would suggest that I use my credential as a “diagnosed” mental health patient as a way to gain social security income since my finances were not in the best order.
Both of the friends mentioned above help others. One does so working with the mentally disabled and the other as a financial advisor, and yet all they could do was focus on what was long ago found to be supposedly “wrong” with me, my “disability.” This instead of working from the point of view of what I had to offer others using my own skills and talents, my “abilities.” In so doing their solutions would have taken my dignity away. I am not interested in going on disability for any reason. I don’t see myself as disabled in any way. Any social security official would have laughed at my case rightfully so given my lack of working with a mental health professional for almost a decade now. My own situation was more about learning effective sales and marketing techniques for my business, and had nothing what so ever to do with my past history and yet, there was a very reasonable explanation for the reliance on disability to come to the fore.
Unfortunately our country is based on the idea that those who have some reason to call themselves “disabled” are able to be granted a basic level of life on the heels of the gainfully employed, to the detriment of all involved. It is a sick and expensive notion to be sure.
A very brave gentleman, James W. Macartney wrote a book right before he died called “Crisis to Creation.” He was a man who had to overcome his own crisis to create a new life for himself based on what he could do after a seizure left him unable to do the work he once did. He worked as a therapist and rehabilitation counselor with people whose lives were turned upside down by war, accidents and seemingly fatal illnesses. His thesis is that our whole system of rehabilitation is one of creating a dependence on the doctors to heal us. When they can’t see a way to our healing they tell us to deal with the practical reality of what medical science can do. In some cases it means living in pain, in other cases it means bodies losing function sometimes till death. With these messages the dignity of the disabled is taken away left to live without any hope for anything better. These patients give up.
Other doctors helped their patients to understand that it was in the patient’s control to discern how to best move forward, giving the dignity back to them. In so doing many of these patients lived far longer than thought to be possible having found a new meaning for themselves in the lives they were living.
Mr. Maccartney was able to perceive a strategy of healing through his transcending his own crisis along with the research he did of others. He found that if a person is able to deal with the crises by navigating through the chaos the lost abilities bring, that person was able to create a new life based on the abilities still in tact. This was best accomplished when the newly disabled person was allowed to let go of the past life. Then using the abilities still in tact, new possibilities for living life were discovered. The beautiful outcome in these cases was creating new life based on a deeper understanding of what truly mattered in life. Life was no longer about accumulating those emotionally empty representations of success in our society. Instead life became about how to bring love and care to the greater world, thus bringing fulfillment to the person. The healed person transcended the self opening up to the possibilities of engaging in the world at large.
I have certainly found this whole notion of returning dignity to my clients to be life giving for those who were willing to let go of the issues that made life so miserable. Taking this idea of dignity full circle, indeed by the conclusion of Dr. Hicks lecture it was determined that dignity equals love and we know that love heals all.
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