Have you ever stopped to find out what drives the way you present yourself?
Check out these pretty typical Instagram profiles to see what I’m getting at-
- @JAlanPipes “Maker of the finest luxury smoking pipes”
- @bjmacwoodwork “Father, Husband, lifelong woodworker. Sharing knowledge makes the world a better place.”
- @gushmann “Director & amp; Filmmaker”
- @andreaswiig “Professional Snowboarder. 3x X Games gold Medalist. Pow lover”
- @seelyseeclimb “Climber, Artist, Writer, Team Five Ten, Risen from the wheelchair, currently in Yosemite”
- @jacklenniedesigner “Designer, Warner Brothers, Tinker, SSCO, Edinburgh – London”
- @dchapdelaine “Minster / Adoption / Foster Care / Music / Coffee / Check out the youtube channel”
This is a pretty quick and random group of people, but see if you can pick up on the things that they all have in common? It’s hard to pin at first because we all subconsciously do this. Here is the thread –
To the best of our own individual ability we all “put our best foot forward” and try our hardest to display only our characteristics that are most valuable to the people we value the most.
This is pretty intuitive when you say it out loud. The innate hunger driving this constant instinctual adjusting and tending to ourselves is from our crave for “The Good Things of Life”. You know…Approval, Acceptance, “to be fully known and fully loved” kind of thing, and naturally everything that makes that good life possible: family, friends, attention, opportunities to grow, money of course, and on and on.
Think about how people introduce themselves- “I’ve worked there for [X] years”, “We are so proud of how our kids turned out”, “The design team I am on was just selected for the new project”, “Our neighborhood has this party every year”, “You have to hear what my sister has been up to..”.
Statements like this reveal that these people have socially valuable roles like Employee, Husband, Father, Wife, Mother, Designer, Team Member, Industry Leader, Culture Maker, and Beloved Neighbor. The way we choose to convey who we are to others might as well read: “people look up to me”, “I am valuable and interesting”, “impressive, right?”
But what you don’t see, and what is equally true, could be something like: “I have no idea what I’m actually doing with my life 90% of the time”, “My retail-therapy habit is trying to kill me”, “The reason I am not comfortable about marriage or kids is because I can’t even begin to process what happened to me growing up”.
We all subconsciously regulate the not-so-attractive traits about ourselves that we can’t change, and simultaneously project our best. Because in reality, every single person on earth, from the leader of a first world country to a person trapped in sex trafficking, EVERYONE, has within themselves untapped strengths and indelible weaknesses.
Now it’s easy to solely blame bad luck here about whether a person has “the good things in life” or not, but don’t be so quickly tempted to scapegoat the whole picture.
Whether a person gains or loses social value after they are born depends far more than we comprehend on what others expect of that person, and what that person expects of themselves, and on Newton’s First Law…
Expectations from others and about ourselves are cyclical and self-fulfilling, whether for good or bad. They are like Snowballs, on a Mountain, in Space (which would make them ice-balls, but stay with me). Whatever direction it is pushed at first, uphill or downhill, is the direction it will continue and build mass in. Unless of course, the snowball is acted upon by an outside force…
Since that logic is pretty much irrefutable (thanks Newton), it would then seem really important to receive and believe valuable expectations about oneself from the get-go, over negative ones, in order live up to and retain all the countless, valuable and powerful identities we desire… “The Good Things of Life”
Here’s is an example of how negative expectations can tragically strip a person’s social value-
- Let’s say a grown woman with a fit mind and body cannot communicate in a typical way but has an interest in gardening. She is then granted support from human services and they determine she needs so much help communicating that someone should be staffed to be with her 12 hours a day. Her staff person, expecting that the woman would not be able to understand the nuances of gardening, decides it would be best to avoid failure by not going to the garden often and by disclaiming to the members of the garden that the woman should not be given real gardening tasks.
What would those lowered expectations do?
The woman will likely be frustrated, even aggressive at this decision. She is then assumed to be a danger to herself and now requires full time staff and is further restricted from the community. Which in turn would not only call out more aggressive behavior in her, but she too would begin to believe that she should be restricted from the community – Fulfilling the negative expectations to everyone that she is not able to garden, should not go out often, and is indeed a danger to herself and others.
Here’s the corollary example of how positive expectations can help someone gain valued roles instead:
- Let’s say this same woman is expected to be active in the community by her staff person instead. They explore their neighborhood and meet people at the community garden. She develops a familiarity and competency working with the other gardeners and is expected to contribute and pull her weight because of her new found skill.
What would those raised expectations do?
Now of course she is driven to live up to those expectations and by the end of the growing season she has gained the respect of the other members in her neighborhood garden and viewed as an equal there – Fulfilling the positive expectations that she is caring, competent, and needed in her neighborhood.
So what is the reason it is assumed (expected) that a person with an intellectual or physical impairment couldn’t, or even shouldn’t gain socially valued roles? Roles like Employee, Husband, Father, Wife, Mother, Designer, Team Member, Industry Leader, Culture Maker, and Beloved Neighbor? Let’s lean on the father of deductive reasoning (thanks Aristotle) to find out-
- IF every single person on earth has within themselves untapped strengths and indelible weaknesses…
- AND if to the best of our ability we all regulate those indelible weaknesses we can’t change, and simultaneously project our best…
- AND since whether a person gains or loses social value depends largely on what others expect of that person, and what that person expects of themselves…
- THEN the reason people who are impaired are assumed to not go anywhere, or to be in fact mere adult children, or liabilities, or just “holy innocent gifts”, or identified solely by their diagnosis, or to be distanced from “more important” people, or even to be justly euthanized…
…The reason may be that impairments can make it impossible to regulate ones not-so-attractive traits, and even impossible to project your best to others.
Is this a valid reason to expect the worst of and for someone? Or is it actually the most important reason to expect the best of and for someone instead?
Just as humans universally unconsciously portray their best, people with impairments are universally subconsciously devalued, to the point that when a person with an impairment gains a valued role, such as a high school sports coach for example, it is considered a rare phenomenon or even a social miracle.
So what can you do to confront such a universally accepted negative expectation for people with impairments?
What could the most meaningful and effective response be to this?
How could you actually change someone’s life knowing this?
Be aware of the negative expectations and ways a person is presented that are limiting their life
Be in a person’s life and get to know someone beyond what impairs them
Believe and expect in a radically new or even best self for a person and work together strategically towards that end
(Bonus) Be encouraged to know that the belief and support of even just one person can be enough to stem off the torrential undercurrent of lowered expectations, and certainly enough to change a person’s life.