Believe in yourself, even when others do not. This is to say, especially when others do not. You are the only one who is truly responsible for your actions and for your future. It is absolutely okay to appear a little “quixotic” at times.
Believe in your cause, whatever it may be. This is tied to a strong belief in yourself. You must also be true to yourself and your cause; what you believe will make a difference in the world. Don Juan said, “Follow the path that has heart.” Make time to sit and listen to your heart’s voice.
Seek always to empower and to be empowered. With every interaction we have the opportunity to grow and inspire growth in others. Recognize the power you have within to make change; not only in your life but in the lives of others. Realize what Ram Dass calls your “Natural Compassion,” your innate motivation to help others. We teach others, by example, to help themselves.
Know that failure can be positive … if we are able to learn from it. Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” Instill in others and in yourself the recognition that there is power in the knowledge gained from trying, failing, learning and trying again.
Know that there are always five or more correct ways to do everything. Be creative. Be a question mark, not a period. The human condition is beautifully and fundamentally based on individuality. There is real danger in relying too heavily on textbook or “cookbook” solutions. Theory is great in theory, but it usually does not translate well to reality. Although, as Woody Allen said, “Reality is still the only place to get a really great steak.”
Don’t take the world too seriously—laughter and joy are the true elixirs of life. “You think too much,” said Zorba the Greek to a man who was taking on the weight of the world, “Clever people and Grocers, they weigh everything!” If we begin to take our jobs, our disabilities, our parenting, our stressors too seriously, they will ultimately consume us ¼ we will become them and we will lose ourselves. Be Just ¼ and Just Be.
Assume nothing—assumption is the mother of all screw ups. If you or a committee you are on happens to be making decisions about a person, try to include that person in the decision making process. After all, he or she is the real expert in their situation.
If you live in a town that has a committee, be on that committee. Hand-in-hand with the last point, as a consumer or self-advocate, you must remain in control of your own destiny. Do not allow yourself to be “dis-labeled.” To echo the rallying cry of the South African Disability Rights Movement, “Nothing about me without me!”
We are all teachers and students. There is an old Chinese proverb, “Over every possessor of knowledge there is one who is more knowing.” Do not close your mind to the options put forth by others but watch, listen and learn. Of equal importance, do not limit yourself to just people; be open to the whole of your environment. I have learned more about Rogerian unconditional love and positive regard from my dog than from any psychology text. To share of ourselves and to allow others to do the same are ultimately our most personal gifts to each other.
Change can be scary, difficult, necessary and positive. Many times we wed change with the unknown. We often tend to fear change because of the uncomfortable feelings we associate with newness, the unfamiliar. But from change comes growth. From chaos comes order. Sometimes it may seem like too much, like a task too large. My stock reply is usually this: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Embrace the challange of change.
Seek always for a cure to psychosclerosis. That is, “hardening of the attitudes”. Rooted in misconception and unfounded stereotypical beliefs, attitudes are the biggest barriers to interdependence, true understanding and progress. Only through constant and repetitive education and, better yet, hands-on experiential learning can we truly make serious changes to the old systems.
Strive for mutual symbiosis. Rock the boat but don’t burn your bridges or shoot any messengers. Remember, as consumers and professionals our goals should be the same. Work together toward these goals. Lean on each other. Make use of each other’s talents and strengths.
Never lose sight of your child-like sense of wonder. This is the most important point and, sometimes, the most difficult to achieve. Find the beauty of the universe in Whitman’s “single leaf of grass.” Try to live your life in a constant state of awe. Beware of the dogma. Don’t buy into the status quo. Follow Frost’s “road less traveled.” Rent a child to guide you. Blow a few bubbles.
Listening is not just hearing. To listen, to truly listen, one must use all of his or her body, including the eyes, heart and undivided attention. Only through real listening can we truly “hear” one another, thereby opening the door to understanding, empathy and mutual respect.
Celebrate your differences but recognize your commonalities. The one thing we all have in common is that we’re all different. Many times prejudice and discrimination (and their painful repercussions) come from focusing on the fears associated with differences, with the unknown. We must work not only to see and appreciate these differences with an open mind but also to see beyond them to the human level where we have so much more in common.
Avoid Ram Dass’ “Helping Prison”. Do not get locked into the “initial roles” which bring us together: Doctor-Patient, Teacher-Student, Administrator-Parent. To focus so narrowly on only one tangent of an individual, avoiding the myriad others that make that person whole, you may completely miss commonalities you share. These commonalities (i.e. sewing, football, mexican cooking), may be the ingredients necessary for another type of relationship: “friendship.” Do not concern yourself with “professional distance” or the possibility of “transference.” There is just too much to lose.
We are all interdependent. No man is an island unto himself. We need each other. When we are fortunate enough to have an opportunity to provide selfless assistance, not only is the other person helped, we are too. We come away changed, feeling good about ourselves and what we have done. As Ram Dass said in his book, “How Can I Help” (read it, you’ll love it!), “We are all just walking each other home.” I have never heard it said any better.
And one last quote about the power of individual or small group change: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
Go now and make a difference