Posted by Steve McCarthy
I was at the headmaster’s office for one of my regular visits when instruments were handed out in the music class. The instrument left, on my return to class, was the French Horn. Whether out of embarrassment or negligible musical talent my instrumental career never really took off. Yet I have never been judged nor felt judged for this lack of ability. People with Learning Difficulties however are constantly judged for what they cannot do rather than what they can do.
Similarly I have played football for most of my life and have played with great and awful players, I suspect that on that spectrum I was nearer awful than great. But I loved the game and except for some light ribbing no one ever judged me for never being good enough to play professionally.
I know that I am not alone in the world in my imperfection. I’d go further and claim that nobody is good at everything. Even that kid in our class who appeared to be omnipotent surely had some well hidden weak spot. In fact our weaknesses are seen as absolutely irrelevant in comparison to our strengths.
Most of us recognise our our weaknesses readily and our strengths slower. We live our lives accordingly. I can assure you that I have never failed an audition for any of the wold’s leading orchestras. Nor have I failed in any trial with a professional football team. In both cases my lack of failure was predicated on my absolute knowledge that I wasn’t good enough. My abilities were severely limited, and in the case of music I would go much further than severely limited. So I have never applied for a job I didn’t think I could do or learn to do.
Other things I am not very good at include directions, mathematics, spatial awareness, singing, painting and art in general, paperwork, tidying up and I could go on but even though my self esteem is fairly healthy I should respect its vulnerability.
Society allows us to only apply for jobs or careers we genuinely believe we can fulfill. I have been a social worker, a Trade Union Leader and a teacher. Never has my lack of musicality been brought into question nor used to define who I am. I have been mocked at times but never defined by my weaknesses. None of my jobs have ever required me to be good at the things I am useless at.
For people with disabilities the exact opposite is often true. For people with Learning Difficulties it is more true than it is not. Too often someones ability in vision or hearing or mobility or speech or IQ is used as defining aspects of their being.
This morning I cried as I read an article about a Residential Service for adults with Learning Difficulties. The interviewee talked about the service as a place where people with Learning Difficulties would live for the rest of their lives. This was in New Zealand, a first world country. Gone was any aspirational dream. IQ not only limiting potential but determining a particular future and a particular residential option, forever. This wasn’t about the choice many of us might make in our senior years. This was about young men and women being sentenced to single quarters forever.
This comfortable incarceration is deemed suitable for people judged to be lacking in some skill or another. Sometimes, like me, they might have weaknesses in more than one area of their life. There are no two people alike in these residences. Each resident has different weaknesses and different strengths. But unlike most of us who are judged on our strengths, these humans are judged by a different standard. They are judged on what they cannot do.
In my title I asked if you were good at everything. Hoping for honesty, I suspected that your answer would be, no. When we are not good at something we can ask for help. Coincidentally another thing I am useless at is DIY. If I had to live without the help of tradespeople I would be in serious trouble. Likewise, earlier this year I had a heart attack and required multiple people to support me in activities of daily living.
Why, on earth, do we allow people with certain weaknesses to be corralled into an institution for the rest of their lives. Could people not live in their own place and have the support they need from time to time. That is, after all, what society provided and provides for me.
And while I’m on it. I’ve had plenty of support in the jobs I have had over the years. Sometimes I’ve needed more and sometimes less. How many of our businesses employ people on the autistic spectrum and how many don’t, regardless of ability to do the job.
I guess I’m just asking the question. Why do we allow people to be judged differently from how we are judged? I guess I’m suggesting that we should look at what people can do or could do with or without support, rather than judge people by something they struggle with.
The football team I have always supported is Glasgow Celtic. They are running away with the league and I guess they could still win even if they played me as a striker for the remaining games of the season. But I wouldn’t do that to my fellow fans even if our manager, Brendan Rogers, decided he didn’t need all of his players to be gifted or under 50 years of age. I also wouldn’t fill in for an orthopedic surgeon or first violin at the London Symphony Orchestra.
I’m not suggesting that we should pretend people are capable of tasks they are clearly never going to achieve. Instead I am suggesting that many people are overlooked for jobs they could do well or even brilliantly based on areas of weakness that have no relevance to the job. That can’t be right, can it?
At Katrina’s Kitchen Garden, as a matter of policy and morality, we choose to see people for who they are and for whom they could become. We have no need to know if they can play the violin or play centre forward for Barcelona. We need people who want to grow food with love. We need people who want to grow a community that grows love. When we need mathematics or art or music we will ask the people with skills in those areas to lead. But mostly we need love and respect for the gifts we have or could have.
If you are imperfect or perfectly imperfect and have love to spare then please come and join us growing love. By the end of January we hope to be supplying weekly boxes of love. We need help to make that happen as we are perfectly imperfect. If you want to help us grow and or you would like to welcome a box of love into your life every week then please message us, or better still, come visit us.
Forgive my use of Muhammad Ali, The Greatest, as clickbait. Ali appeared to be good at everything. He even appeared great at living through debilitating illness. It would serve no purpose to suggest he was anything less than the Greatest. But for the rest of us we might do well to listen to his words of wisdom.