“When change is done to people they experience it as violence; when change is done by people they experience it as liberation” Beth Moss-Kanter.
It was such an honour to share my thoughts at this year’s gathering, but slightly terrifying when people sat at my feet in order to hear me speak. I no longer remember my exact words; I hope I translated the following thoughts into stories… Stories about people I know, the leaders I admire, those that have enabled my gifts to be seen.
I’ve heard people say that community is not about disability. I wholeheartedly agree! Community isn’t about disability, or impairment in the medical sense, but it is about disabled people! To my mind community is about appreciating the gifts of others, and sometimes finding ways to illuminate their expression. So to support the expression of the gifts disabled people bring is Leadership Activity. In my experience it isn’t always easy, it requires a will to understand what is important between people, it is about sharing not about individualism.
Our relationships involve exchange, the valuing of time, effort, thinking etc… Others can enrich our lives if we are mindful to appreciate how important they are to our existence. The belief that ability is linear often prevents us appreciating the less obvious. On a scale of 1-11 how could we score the richness of human ability? If the assumed score is low for whatever reason: impairment, difference, or circumstance, the deficit is likely to hold our attention. Viewed as half empty our misplaced attention may even replace the existing strengths with negative assumptions.
Stereotypes and hierarchies are part of life. Thankfully, relationships often interrupt the urge to sort. When you become important to me, our shared gifts take on meaning and our weakness shrink from our attention. This is easy when you like someone, less so when they are a more distant member of our locality or community of practice. To intentionally create a different mindfulness requires new tools. That is why Asset-Based Community Development, Appreciative Inquiry, Strength-Based strategies, Well-being Theory, and Positive Psychology are so useful. They interrupt negative responses, offering new ways of being with other people; they help us invite, to meet the strangers we don’t yet know – the neighbour that’ll change our lives.
I wanted to ask people: Have you turned your attention up enough to grow stronger? So that you can be more vulnerable, open and present to the lives of others? How will you get strangers into the room come Monday?
I think that without the inner strength to open ourselves with courage, being vulnerable (not inappropriately available or weak), we are unable to connect fully. In covering our hearts and our minds, our efforts will only serve to cover our own shortcomings. And by covering our shortcomings don’t we run the risk of crushing others? Hospitality viewed this way is not only an invitation, but an opportunity to help others share in a whole community’s leadership activity.
Soulful authority is the humanity that drives leadership activity. Rather than position in a hierarchy, leadership activity requires confidence. Challenging the status quo, and helping others to grow is a generous act. (Chapman, L. Kindle. 2013)
Other people are important in developing our leadership capacity, because only people can make empathy, hope and authority meaningful. It is in our conversations that we secure our understanding, affirm our strength and develop ideas. If we see our jobs as allies as doing for others what they could do for themselves – with or without support – then we act out the assumption that they too foolish or too fragile to take part in shared responsibility. Our actions sometimes give away the misconceptions we hold. Equally we often play out the hard behaviour we’ve had to endure. Interrupting the viking or victim with a different way of being is hard. But we need to spread a positive alternative for our community relationships to thrive – positive action to contradict past hurt. … To be continued!