How often do you become aware of your body? I mean, really aware. Aware to the point that you can distinguish between your consciousness — the dynamic thinking, feeling, sensing, perceiving part of yourself — and the flesh, bones, muscles, tendons, veins, arteries, organs and more that make up your body.
A friend of mine once said to me, "You're so in your body." I didn't know how to take it — was he criticising me for being too literal or not philosophical enough? Or was he complimenting me for being down-to-earth and grounded?
This afternoon I presented to the Parliamentary Health Select Committee about my submission on Hon Maryan Street’s petition about voluntary euthanasia (or assisted dying). Imagine my delight when I saw, sitting in the sub-committee to which I was to present, Hon Simon O'Connor, the Committee's Chair, and Poto Williams, Labour's spokesperson on disability issues, whom I have met several times. Score!
I began by acknowledging the death this morning of Helen Kelly who, in her struggle with cancer, lobbied for legalisation of both medical cannabis use and assisted dying (AD). Helen, if you're reading this somewhere and you had anything to do with the sub-committee make-up, many, many thanks.
I was disappointed but not surprised that a diversity debate at the Auckland Writers Festival yesterday turned out to be an ethnicity debate, with a little parlance about binary gender thrown in for good measure.
Image | Auckland Writers Festival
When I asked at the end why in 2016 a diversity debate's scope would be so narrow (apart from author Victor Rodger mentioning a fa'afafine character in one of his novels), after a resounding applause from the audience, I was met with varying levels of defensiveness, including:
1 May is the eleventh annual Blogging Against Disablism Day. "This is the day where all around the world, disabled and non-disabled people blog about their experiences, observations and thoughts about disability discrimination (known as disablism or ableism). In this way, we hope to raise awareness of inequality, promote equality and celebrate the progress we've made," says the official site.
I've blogged a couple of times. This year I'm doing a mash-up of those two posts because they still represent my views.
Following on from my last post about rebranding, I’ve also changed how I describe myself or, more accurately, my experience. I talk about "my paradoxical experience as a queer, caucasian, cisgender man with unique function (disability).”
Even doing this is paradoxical, given I argued the point in 2012 at TEDxAuckland that we need to decay labels to reveal diversity. But I’m doing it to explain a phenomenon of power, privilege and paradox, rather than to label myself.
Power and privilege have long been part of the politics of diversity and discrimination. Recently I heard another diversity expert, Leslie Hawthorne, encourage those with privilege to raise awareness of it by, for example, not using the word “lame" to describe something that is bad or stupid, because you are implying that people who can’t walk are bad or stupid*.
The arrest of 12 and 13 year old boys for aggravated robbery and murder respectively in West Auckland a couple of weeks ago highlights a growing malaise in society. The incident itself is a tragedy for the victim and his family, but what is alarming to me is that the two offending boys are victims too — of whatever circumstances led them to offend and now, potentially, of the justice system as well.
The bi-polarity of the justice system, which recognises only victim and offender, clearly fails children in these situations. The stories of those like twelve-year-old Bailey Kurariki (NZ 2001), James Bulger's ten-year-old killers (UK 1993) and eleven-year-old Mary Bell (UK 1968), all of whom were charged and sentenced, point toward a "punishment system" that in no way takes into consideration that these children were too young to be held solely responsible for their actions.
A system that believes kids can be guilty of violent crimes without asking, "How did they become capable of violent crimes?", is one that lacks empathy and compassion. Having empathy and compassion for the kids does not diminish feeling for the victims. It simply acknowledges the existence of complex situations that don't follow "victim/perpetrator" patterns.
For about seven years I've guest lectured in the Concepts of Rehabilitation paper at AUT University. The students come from a wide range of disciplines including physiotherapy, chiropractics, nursing and occupational therapy.
I ask that students prepare by reading my journal article, Constructive Functional Diversity (CFD), which quite radically challenges the binary notion of disability and non-disability, and suggests new language for the mainly medicalised ideas behind rehab. It also challenges the focus of functional improvement in favour of considering functional value instead.
Then we have a 90-minute conversation.
May 1 is Blogging Against Disablism Day. You probably didn't know that. I remember hearing about it years ago but had forgotten until I saw a tweet about it.
The problem with blogging against disablism is that "disablism" is the wrong term. We should be blogging against ablism. Ablism is the preference for or normative belief that being able is better or superior than not being able, in the same way that heterosexism is the preference for or normative belief that being heterosexual is better or superior than not being heterosexual.
So blogging against disablism is like blogging against homosexism.
We often hear people utter the mantra, “Think outside the box.” It’s become the hold-all for creative thinking, problem solving and even good leadership.
But how often do we often think about the box itself? How often do we consider that, by thinking outside it, we stray away from the box — even ignore it completely — and miss the truth of the matter:
The box is the problem. It’s too big, too small, the wrong shape, the wrong colour.
If you are, you're very likely to get it wrong.
Organisations that build cultures that require people to do the right thing in regards to culture, gender, sexuality, function (disability) etc, create behaviours governed by fear. People will avoid engagement in order to stay safe, because they'll be scared of getting it wrong.