The Other Side Of Exclusion

“I do not give a fig about simplicity on this side of complexity; but I would give my arm for simplicity on the other side of complexity”Oliver Wendell Holmes

All people want simple things. They want to be able to get a job to earn money, they want to do meaningful things with their time, they want to live around people they like, they want to be able to get around and engage in the community, and they want to build relationships.

Yet, when people begin to experience struggles, or demands that can be complex, like the advent of a disability, or challenges brought on by aging, or economic struggles that can occur in the natural rhythms of life, these people get thrown (referred) into a complex web of actions. That is, often these people enter systems, or agencies, that are hell bent on helping them, but look at their situation through the lens of their disability or infirmity.

This micro interpretation has good intentions, but much like the complex legal system, it can lose sight of the simple goals, and begin to push the person to change, adjust, or fix their problem so they can fit in to a perceived community norm. As noble as it is, the micro perspective can become a “black hole” that encases the “client” and puts demands on them that can be unrealistic, or impossible.

We can develop services aimed to change or “fix” people, but at the end of the day, people will still be socially isolated and disconnected from their communities. By excluding people with disabilities from the mainstream community, we are not encouraging other members of the community to accept those who are different, and we are sending a message to people with disabilities, as well as members of other minority groups, that “you’re not welcome”.

In some twisted way, we projected these failures onto these “minority groups.” We thought that they were just not motivated, or able to do the things they need to be included, or worse, we began to create alternative solutions. We developed group homes, sheltered workshops, special education classes, special recreation and initiated a “dualistic society.” In essence, we gave up on the simple notion of community, in favour of “otherness”.

Yet, if we can awaken as advocates, and start to think about the other side of the inclusion agenda, we might find more answers to the simple notion of community. That is, if you can not change, fix, or ameliorate a challenging condition, is this the end of the story? I think not. Indeed, there is an entirely new playing field, full of possibilities an opportunities if we just begin to look at the other side of the challenge and take a macro approach.

This perspective suggests that it is not our differences that divide us, but our judgments about these differences. That is, once our judgments expand, then the challenge of inclusion lessens. Think about it. You may have had a particular judgment about something, bore out of ignorance, or misunderstanding. But once you became more closely introduced to a situation, your judgment might have changed. Allow me a story here.

When I was at school the were two dark skinned boys in my class, who were constantly being bullied by another boy at the school. This boy was from quite a wealthy family who proclaimed to have very high moral values, despite the fact that they had a strong dislike to people from other ethnic backgrounds, especially “coloured” people, or people from non-English Speaking Backgrounds.

This boy came from a fairly religious family, who attended church every Sunday. After getting into trouble a few times at school and receiving strong counselling from his teachers and spending time with the pastor from Church, he starting questioning his judgement about the two “coloured” boy at schools and eventually changed his ways. It was not the role of these two boys to “fix” themselves, it was up to the boy bullying them, to re-frame his thoughts about the “coloured” boys.

If we want to help people do meaningful things and get jobs, what are the judgments of the employers; if we want people to be engaged in the community, what are the judgments of the “typical” folks in those communities? This thinking re-frames the target. How can we get the “typical” person in the community to change their perspective on disability, or aging, or any other situation that disconnects people?

Knowledge is power!

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