Listening Beyond Labels
We read story after story about elite athletes who derive strength and inspiration from relatives and friends with developmental conditions. The young man with Down syndrome who travels with the Seattle Sounders and even addresses the team in the locker room before games. The elite women’s basketball player who walked away from her scholarship and brilliant career at Connecticut because she couldn’t be successful without the daily inspiration and example of her sister with cerebral palsy. The young man who said of his “older brothers” on the University of Cincinnati football team who unanimously adopted him, “they inspire me and I inspire them.” And most recently, the inspiring story of the high school student with Down syndrome whose touchdown run for the Snohomish High football team has gone viral on You Tube.
But what about everyone else? For everyone adopted by a football or soccer team, there are hundreds if not thousands of ordinary people with developmental conditions whose potential is not being realized, whose qualities are not being evoked and valued through participation in the classroom, in the workplace, in the community. We are still a society that segregates people, a competitive society where “survival of the fittest” is still the dominant ethos, where the rules are written by those who consider themselves the fittest, where the very definition of “fitness” (and “ability”) too often means being “like me.”
We can do better than this! Rich human value and engagement are rare commodities that are much too precious to waste. In a highly evolved civil society as complex as ours, we need everyone at the table. We need diversity to learn and grow and work effectively together – diversity of perspective, diverse ways of thinking, and diverse ways of experiencing the world around us. We need each other. And perhaps above all, we need to be inspired.
Read: Teaching George to Count - an inspirational story about what it means to teach, train and truly listen.