For every birthday growing up, I received a card from my grandparents with a check in the amount of my age. Scrawled out in Grandpa’s characteristic lefty-handwriting, with a smiley face in place of an “o” or two, it was just one of the small ways my grandparents of 40 grandkids (and parents of 11), made each one of us feel loved each year.
Once I hit double digits, the excitement for those birthday checks of course grew.
But the best part of those birthday cards was not really the check. It was the message inside. Even after going through the trouble of remembering each one of us grandkids, they then went through the extra effort of writing us a special note inside.
Years after they passed (both within 6 months of each other), Grandma Mary and Grandpa Bill live on in each one of us. My cousin Meredith has kept one of the cards she got for her birthday close to her still, and tells the story of how this quote has come to be advice she carries with her:
I feel it was a rare gift to see this wisdom put into real-life context, exemplified by our Grandma and Grandpa’s lives as role models to us kids… Thinking back on their lives and this wisdom, brought me to an unlikely connection with the theory of SRV (Social Role Valorization) I thought worth sharing…
SRV is referred to quite a bit on Cincibility, and at first sight is such an incredibly weighty term that most people probably feel their head spin around before being able to approach its meaning. This is unfortunate because many of us here at Starfire have discussed how SRV is really the answer to so many of our modern woes, and to so many problems with the “system.”
So, Grandma, Grandpa, if you’re out there and can just be patient with me on this… Here is a most introductory, “SRV-extra-lite” way of sharing this theory, using your simple wisdom as a springboard:
“Watch your thoughts, for they become words. The way we think about a person might be subtle or subconscious, but the words we use to describe him or her can be revealing. When our thoughts devalue, our words show devaluation… and thus begins a vicious cycle…
“This consumer has explosive mood disorder, can’t be in crowds, and has pushed away several support providers because of hitting…”
Mindfully thinking about a person’s challenges and vulnerabilities, and planning for these challenges by focusing on a person’s natural strengths, passions, and interests.
“Abigail is very proud of her Jewish heritage and knows a ton about musicals. She likes to try new places to eat around town and is a great conversationalist. She may get uncomfortable in crowds, although she has every capability of expressing when she would like to leave a situation or go somewhere new, and needs someone who is willing to listen to these cues from her.”
Watch your words, for they become actions. Words can create distance. They can give off the air that one must first be “qualified/authorized/specialized” to be around a person unless they are “Staff/Special Educator/Family member.” This poses a barrier between a person and the community and lessens the likelihood that a person with a disability will end up being invited to “belong” to community.
“I have been working with this consumer for 5 years as her staff person. I have read and know her files.”
Describing a person’s roles in a way that invites and encourages a community person to share in the richness his or her life as fellow citizens. Check out Tim’s ad for Starfire
“You should meet Abigail, she is a friend, sister of 7, lover of musicals, and loves eating out. She has been looking for someone to try this new restaurant with…”
Community member: “I have been looking for someone to help me write my restaurant review blog. Maybe we could review that restaurant together…”
Watch your actions, for they become habits. When community doesn’t feel the need, or feel comfortable to step in to be someone’s friend, or advocate, or supporter it becomes a matter of habit, or an unconscious reality. It becomes the unspoken norm to exclude, keep separate, or seek “programs” for people with disabilities.
A recent report came out revealing that people with disabilities often “do nothing all day.”
Finding ways to make inclusion a way of life: means working hard to break the old habits of “us” and “them,” “client” and “staff,” “the served” and “volunteer.”
The more we act to invite people into community life who are marginalized and excluded, the more we are choosing to make inclusion a part of our lives. When we get in the habit of including others in our lives, everyone involved has greater access to what is known as the “good life”!
Watch your habits, for they become character. Any person routinely involved in activities with others on the sheer basis of “separate-ness,” “different-ness,” and negatively perceived labels, will lose a sense of character or selfhood.
When people who don’t share similar interests or passions are grouped, often that sense of self will atrophie, as study show a person in this situation often reports feeling “anonymous” and unmotivated.
Sharing what makes you distinctly unique such as a sense of humor, a passion for cars, or your love for swimming, with others who share the same passions on a regular basis, work to build a person’s character on the basis of their strengths and contributions to others.
“Abigail’s passion for song and dance really makes going to any musical production with her all the more enjoyable. She brings out the best in me!”
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. The destiny of a person with a character based on “clienthood” has historically looked pretty dismal:
“In its everyday reality, denial of membership decreases severely disable people’s power to pursue their own goals and increases their vulnerability to dehumanizing, or neglectful, or abusive treatment. Sometimes predators victimize people with disabilities, but people who mean well can also diminish excluded people’s humanity.” –John O’Brien and Connie Lyle O’Brien, from their book “Members of Each Other.”
Fellow citizens who make the constant effort to include, invite, and invest in one another’s personal success, create a destiny that looks much more welcoming to all people….
“To reduce the chance of unpleasant and dispiriting policy outcomes, learn more of the nature, extend and bases of social relationships….To learn, one need only to get involved: listen, look, try to understand situations in terms of shared humanity, and respond actively to invitations for personal engagement and civic action.” –John O’Brien and Connie Lyle O’Brien, from their book “Members of Each Other.”
So, what are you thinking, saying, acting, and being?