Over the last few years, I started realizing how much trouble we were having communicating with one another. Less so for close friends and family. Much more so when it comes to discussing ideologies with strangers. Having failed at so many of these conversations, I may have learned something. If we want to have more meaningful conversations, we need to do a better job of being honest with one another. And that includes using the most accurate language available to us.
I hear the word disability tossed around a fair bit. There now seems to be a disability for everything. It’s like if you’re anything other than the ‘perfect’ human blueprint, you are somehow lesser. And this is your disability.
I read something interesting a few months ago about the victim mentality. Someone was asked why it had gained in popularity and what made it attractive. The answer was rather simple: it was an easy way to be powerful. The traditional route to power was through hard work and success, and it usually took years. In a society that celebrates and protects victims, why invest the time and effort into building yourself up through accountability and responsibility when you could get the same result through claiming your victimhood? Why put in the long hours and make the hard decisions when you could look for ways in which you’ve been marginalized and call foul?
Disabled? Why even try? Why would you want to overcome your challenges? Why would you want to try and find your gift? Why not tell the world that you got a raw deal and that it’s their responsibility to make it up to you?
Because of Stephen Hawking and everyone like him.
Put him in a pro football game and I’ll show you someone who is appears severely disabled. Place him within an academic environment where he can research, study, and share his knowledge… I’ll show you one of the most gifted individuals of the last century. It’s only a disability when you apply yourself to the wrong task. That means it’s not a disability, it’s a misalignment. Your genetic variance needs to be aligned with the right task for you to do what you do best. I would imagine Gronk would be about as successful at teaching theoretical physics to a group of PhDs as Hawking would be at catching an end-zone pass.
I think it’s about time we start making an effort to understand the situation for what it is. There are plenty of illnesses which are real. There are all kinds of foreign substances which can be introduced to your body which will mess your shit up. That’s where it’s important to understand how to heal the body and bring it back to a sustainable equilibrium. But I can’t help but think that this is very different from most if not all physical or cognitive ‘disabilities’. Those aren’t disabilities, those are genetic variances.
When I try to think about myself from the perspective of disability, I can see plenty that’s wrong with me. I get pretty bad pollen allergies every year. My vision isn’t perfect. I qualify as dyslexic. I have a series of lingering sports injuries including chronic lower back pain and metal in my arm. I have a heavily deviated septum. My sense of smell sucks. I binge eat. And etc. And etc. And etc. And it’s not like I’m unaware of them. I’m working on improving the ones I can, and not stressed about the rest.
It’s funny, I’m thinking back to when I grew up and it the was kind of neighborhood where nobody was short on disadvantages. Everyone was aware of what was making their lives hard. We didn’t complain or expect someone else to change it though, we just assumed the deck was stacked against us. What we would do was use that a measure of whose success was worth celebrating. It wasn’t about who had the greatest accomplishment, it was about who did the most with the least. I can’t help but be grateful that I was raised with that perspective.
When I think about who I am and what I’ve been given, with the perspective I have today… I see something pretty cool. All things considered, I think I got a pretty good roll of the genetic dice. But like anyone else, it’s a mixed bag. The way my brain is wired allows me to do certain thing exceptionally well while it struggles with others. Dyslexic? Why? Because my brain is wired to do things differently than someone else’s? And what if I can do these things better than the average person? Is it a disability? Who’s to say that my unique genetic variance doesn’t simultaneously display symptoms of dyslexia while allowing my mind to do all kinds of other cool things that others struggle with
We are all our own deviation from the human blueprint. Each variation of that blueprint comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. And those advantages and disadvantages wills shift depending on circumstance. The best thing we can do for ourselves is understand where we have the potential to be exceptional at and apply ourselves to the best of our abilities. The best thing we can do as a society is to support the discovery of what makes us different, and then to support the pursuit of being our absolute best at it. Through this, I can see a happier, more productive world.
Whatever it is that you are, there is something you do better than anyone else. If you spend your time doing that, you are not disabled, you are gifted.