“You’re the best!” We all need to hear that. We all want to excel, to be valued and to be acknowledged. I suspect most of us hear it much less than might be healthy for us.
Often, we have a hard time really hearing the accolade, even when it’s spoken to us. The little doubt engine in our mind keeps chugging along with “I wonder if they really mean it,” or “That’s a pity comment. They just feel sorry for me.” Many people, including those with disabilities, can be quite creative in getting jobs done but then worry about whether the work is “as good as” others’ work. It seems the harder it is to do, the more we worry about quality.
I just want to remind us all (I’m talking to you there in the mirror) that you are the very BEST at being you! You are, in fact, the only one of you the world has. There really is no external standard for being the best you. The media, social media and our society in general, holds out nearly impossible standards for being the best parent, best spouse, best ________ professional. We are endlessly comparing ourselves to others and finding ourselves—well lacking something or other.
What does the best you look like? Looking within rather than outside ourselves can reveal where our greatest work lies. And it is where our greatest success lies. The divine imprint within you is not based on someone else—it is uniquely you and at the same time, universally divine. Only you have the power to bring into manifestation the best you. Only you know the direction you desire to go; the gifts you desire to share; the change you would like to see.
Think of three things you’ve done that at one time, you didn’t think you could. Think of the seasons you’ve weathered, the joys you’ve celebrated, the love you’ve known. Just for a moment savor being YOU! Because you’re the best!
Early on, everyone with a disability must resolve how to answer this perennial question. Whether your disability is easily visible and the question is almost a greeting or whether the question doesn’t arise until your disability is revealed, the question comes. Sometimes there is a follow-up: Why can’t you…. If you’ve grown up with a disability, you’ve mastered some sort of answer by the time you are an adult. If you’ve acquired a disability, the sad news is that in the midst of grieving whatever function you have lost, you also have to come to terms with answering this question.
As a child, I learned quickly that I was expected to answer this question by explaining my dwarfism was a lack of bone growth. As I got older, I added that God makes everyone different; different sizes, shapes and colors. Coaching children to answer puts two burdens on a child. First, by answering with information you do not challenge the “wrong” part of the question. You answer what is wrong with you. Repeatedly the child hears and absorbs “there is something wrong with me”. Second, the expectation the child will answer with information imprints on the child that they are expected to share personal information with total strangers. By virtue of their difference, they are not entitled to the same sense of privacy and personal space everyone else gets. Honestly, I coached my children in the same kind of answers I always gave. Today, I would teach them differently.
Nothing is wrong with me. Different is not wrong nor is it bad nor less than. If responding to a child, I would add “And your parents should explain that to you.” The task of teaching children about differences is not the duty of all the people around the child who are different than the child. Especially if it is a child-to-child interaction, no child should have to defend their right to exist to a peer. The idea that this applies equally to adult-to-adult interactions should not have to be explained but here it is. I don’t owe you an explanation or information. I will not leave the idea something is wrong with me unchallenged!
I often go to the story in John 9 as a metaphorical guide to Jesus’ response to disability. The story begins with the disciples questioning: Who sinned, the parents or the man, that caused him to be blind? Definitely a judgement that something is wrong. Jesus responds, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” So nothing is wrong. Let’s think about the last portion of the response—so that God’s works might be revealed in him. So why are any of us here? So that God’s works might be revealed in us. Same deal for all of us. People with disabilities do not have some special directive nor are they excluded from purpose and value. Then the story is odd. Jesus puts mud on the man’s eyes and tells him to wash it off. For me, the mud represents all the judgments, limiting opinions, and disrespect heaped upon all of those judged different but especially those with disabilities. Then Jesus tells the man to wash it off. It is an action the man himself takes, inspired and guided by Spirit. “Then he went and washed and came back able to see.” Here is where I feel strongly about metaphorical meaning, not literal meaning. What did he see? The literal and even common metaphorical meaning is that his sensory eyesight was activated. It was a physical healing. Yet the passage says he was a beggar and no one could recognize him now. He was a changed man. Here is what I think he saw—he saw himself as a divine being, worthy and capable. He stood straighter, walked with confidence the familiar paths, he changed his appearance with a sense of self-esteem. The transformation of consciousness is a powerful healing that is possible for all of us. How many of us need restoration of our ability to see ourselves as worthy; as divine heirs of the kingdom? How many of us never notice the mud placed upon our vision, layer after layer, day after day? How many of us are willing to take action when divinely inspired? Or do we wait for someone/something else to act upon us for healing?
During Lent we are encouraged to give up something. Our Unity Lenten booklet lays out a plan to let go of the negative and take up the positive. Let’s give up the mud! Let go of mud we heap upon one another and the mud that we accept when heaped upon us. There is nothing wrong with you; there is nothing wrong with others. If anyone asks what is wrong with you, do not affirm the idea by explaining what is wrong. Challenge the idea! Deny it has power over you! There is nothing wrong with me. We may be different but that does not make one of us wrong! You do not owe anyone a further explanation. Let us take action to wash the mud away, thought by thought, and see ourselves for the brilliant expressions of Spirit each of us is. We are here so that the works of God may be revealed in us. The Divine shines in every single, radically whole, one of us. Shine on!
Over the past several months, we’ve been inundated with the discussion of “fake news”. Information blatantly false or without basic underlying evidence which is repeated as news. The irony is that the more frequently people repeat it, the more it is believed. No one looks for any underlying truth.
If we are honest, we’ve been dealing with fake news for years. I’ve called it the false narrative. Lots of people call it “the inner critic” or “monkey mind”. It is the headline that blazes across our inner vision when we try something new or reach the boundary of our comfort zone. It may be something we’ve heard since childhood, or seen repeatedly in the media, or read in a magazine. It focuses on something within us that must be fixed before we can be whole and attain any level of happiness or success. Often we go years without questioning these headlines! “You can’t” “It’s impossible” “Get a __________ (job, education, relationship, house, car, etc)” The fix may relate to our size, shape, color, lover, way we talk, way we walk (or don’t walk). It can be any of a gazillion (don’t bother looking it up, it’s a big number) ways we try to make others and, ultimately ourselves, seem less than whole.
The real news here is that the wholeness we are trying to fix our way towards already exists. We are born with our eternally whole self within, waiting for us to recognize and claim it. Our inner knowing waits for us to stop trying to fix the outside to make the inner whole and instead, draw on the inner whole to heal and transform the outside conditions we desire to change. Notice I said, “we desire to change” not “the conditions others expect us to change.” What is it you truly desire? When we take our focus off of “things” (house, car, job, relationship) and focus on conditions (being peaceful, wise, loving), we might discover what we seek is right there inside our eternally whole self.
One practice I find helpful is to dialog with the false narrative. Whatever the message is, get curious in your dialog. “Why is that so?” “Is that really true?” “When did I begin to believe that” (It is interesting how we internalize the false narrative and begin to believe it.) Then begin to offer alternative messages. Some people think affirmations, or positive statements, are just new-agey nonsense. Affirmations are simply an alternative to the negative statements we embrace without question. In the movie The Help, the maid or nanny teaches the little girl three statements, “You is smart; you is kind; you is important.” These were just statements as an antidote to the messages the mother was carelessly instilling in the child. Why not use positive statements to replace the false narrative you allow to play on endless loop inside your head? You are filled with wisdom; you are love in expression and you are the unique pattern of humanity only you can fulfill. What are you waiting for? Begin a dialog with your false narrative.
Image description: blurry background with white lettering: It’s not your job to like me-it’s mine. Byron Katie
Scientific research confirms that the words we use, the thoughts and beliefs we hold, and our emotional health have an impact on our physical well being. We are encouraged to use positive words as we talk about ourselves and our life and stay alert to the emotional tides stirring in us. The interesting thing is, words carry the meaning, emotion and energy we give them. The exact same words carry a positive or negative energy, depending on the speaker.
In this month of June, African-Americans celebrate Juneteenth; LGBTQ folks celebrate in Pride parades and festivals; and last Sunday the disability community celebrated the first Tony award given Ali Stroker, an actress in a wheelchair. These celebrations are associated with conflicts, sacrifices and struggles. June 19, 1865 was the declaration of the freedom of slaves in Texas and the emancipation of slaves in most of the confederate states. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the riots between police and the LGBTQ community at Stonewall in New York. The Tony is the culmination of not only the efforts of one actress but the many disabled performers before her denied access to the stage and the roles and the recognition deserved.
For many generations, white people in the United States have told others that the color of their skin made them less than and using the privilege of white skin, they took action to limit the social, economic and political power people of color could access. For many generations, straight people in the United States have told Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender and Queer people that they were flawed and to act upon their natural sexuality was shameful. Straight people using their privilege, took action to limit the social, economic and political power LGBTQ people could access and tried to use religion to deny even the spirituality of this segment of our population. For many generations, able-bodied people in the United States have told people with various obvious and not obvious disabilities they were broken and less valuable. Looking at people with disabilities with pity or at best compassion, able-bodied people were grateful not to be in those circumstances and then used their privilege to construct barriers that limit the social, economic, and political power and even physical access of people with disabilities.
Black Power, Gay Pride and Disability Pride would have seemed impossible concepts a hundred years ago. Calling someone black, gay or disabled for many years has carried a negative energy. When the energy of words describing our humanity is used so negatively so often in every arena of our lives, it takes intention and effort to shift that energy in our own consciousness. I believe it has to start within the consciousness of those impacted first. I have to make peace with who I am. Allies who are not impacted and therefore hold power denied the marginalized and who hold positive energy around marginalized human characteristics are important partners in social and political change. Still, so long as I continue to buy into the negative energy of descriptions of my own humanity, it will adversely impact my dreams, my belief about my potential and even my physical and emotional health. I have to believe in myself before I can truly feel supported by others.
It has been interesting for me to explore my bias around marginalized characteristics. I consider myself a consciously aware Ally and some recent testing reminded me to work at staying aware of subtle ways I may continue to be influenced by early and repeated conditioning from media, peers and the social/work environment. “Project Implicit” is a Harvard project and testing site that has been developed to probe for our bias in gender, race, sexual orientation, abilities and more. Testing revealed bias in favor of whites, despite considering myself a strong ally for racial equality. Testing also revealed a belief in male dominance, despite being a strong female professional. Interestingly, testing revealed I have a bias in favor of disability. Pretty much all of these results surprised me. At first I wanted to challenge the accuracy of the bias revealed which did not align with my perceptions of myself. Then came the news I had a positive bias around disability. It is more challenging to accept some results and not others.
One thing the testing indicated to me was simply that for me, disability does not carry the negative energy it might for people intent on oppressing or discounting individuals with disability. Just as African-Americans claim that part of their humanity with positive energy and LGBTQ claim that part of their humanity with positive energy, my disability tribe is coming into the power and positive energy of claiming that part of our humanity. Disability is something that distinguishes us but does not diminish us. We are making peace with our humanity. Other people wonder why I would be willing to identify as disabled. I guess the confusion arises from their negative bias around the characteristic. Unlike their perception, when I identify as disabled I am not considering myself broken, limited or less than anyone else. Using disabled as a positive word seems outside the realm of possibility for many. What may be most important is the ability of individuals impacted by disability to perceive that aspect of their humanity positively. What other people think of me is not my business. What I think of me directly impacts my health, wealth and well-being.
Ali Stroker’s acceptance speech at the Tony awards initially focused on her role as a pioneer. “This award is for every kid who is watching tonight who has a disability, who has a limitation or a challenge, who has been waiting to see themselves represented in this arena — you are,” she said. It is easy to say, “See she said ‘limitation or challenge’. That’s a negative self-image.” For me, she is using words in a way familiar to the audience and then redefining them by the way she lives. “You say I have a disability, a limitation and a challenge as a negative and yet here I am using my gifts, shining my light and being a whole person.” That is Radical Wholeness expressing without limits.
Radical Wholeness tells me the spiritual essence within me is exactly as powerful, sacred and whole as that essence in each and every person. To view my humanity, this temporary vessel for my Radical Wholeness, as something negative is what limits the radiance of my divine light. Not the vessel, not the opinion of others, but my own negativity restrains the potential within me yearning to express. Disability is a positive word for radical wholeness expressing.