“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Friday, September 30, 2011

Expressions of deep woundedness from Wolfensberger

Several months back, I taught a class introducing students to Social Role Valorization. As a part of the lecture, we discussed the 18 wounds or as Wolfensberger describes them "The bad things that typically get done to devalued people." Having listed and described those bad things, he goes on to list the evidences or expressions in devalued people that they have been deeply wounded. I list them here for your consideration. These are quotes from "A brief introduction to social role valorization: A high-order concept for addressing the plight of societally devalued people, and for structuring human services" (3rd revised edition, 2004).

1. The wounded person may be, act, and feel like, an alien in the world, particularly the world of valued society. Devalued people can become very much aware that they do not fit in, that they are not welcome.
2. Wounded people may begin to dislike themselves and think that they really are despicable, unlovable, worthless; that everything bad that happens to them is their own fault, and that they deserve bad fortune.
3. Many of the wounds tend to make the wounded person very insecure.
4. These wounds can also generate an expectancy in the wounded person to fail at everythign or what psychologists have called a "failure set," which then tends to actually lead to avoidance of challenges..."
5. People who are the objects of devaluation may be very aware that they are a source of anguish to whatever people may still be around who love them, especially their family members.
6. Some people who have been deeply wounded by rejection and/or real or perceived abandonment -- especially early in life -- will embark on a real or smpolic quest for the abandoner.
7. Relatedly, people who have been deeply wounded in their relationships may develop fantasies about having once had positive relationships...
8. Relationship-wounded people may also seek a great deal of physical contact with others, perhaps going as far as being sexually promiscuous...
9. Deeply wounded people can become very distrustful of relationships
10. Many devalued people become embittered and perhaps even full of resentment and hatred towards the privileged world for having done, and continuing to do, such hurtful things to them.
11. Some people have been so badly wounded they withdraw from all contact from other human beings...
12. ...many deeply wounded people are so enraged about what has been and perhaps continues to be, done to them that they become overtly violent...
13. And coping with one's wounds can take so much energy that a deeply wounded person actually ends up reduced in intelligent, rational and adaptive functioning...
Wolfensberger's comments should give us pause.  It should also impact the way we think about developing ministries that would facilitate openness and inclusion of devalued persons including those experiencing disabiliteis.


"Your child has plateaued"

Had coffee with a friend of mine who's father is a doctor who works with many children with disabilities. He related the story of how his father will have interactions with teachers about the educational program of one of their students, and they will say to the doctor,
"There isn't really much more we can do. The child has plateaued."
So, as a teacher of a child with severe disabilities, I needn't do anything for the child because they have plateaued. Now that doesn't mean that I won't continue to collect my paycheck for supposedly being their teacher, supposedly educating them. But at the same time, you can't expect anything of the child in terms of skill development because they have plateaued. My only response to such a statement is 'HOW DARE YOU!" Who do you think you are claiming to be able to look at another human being and say that you have the ability to know that they can no longer learn anything?

I have seen slacker teachers who do not do anything educationally for their students, but even those slackers would admit that they are just lazy. They would not say that they are not doing anything because the children don't have the ability to learn. That such people could thrive within the educational system of our country indicates how dysfunctional that system is. It also indicates what the perception of the educational system is relative to individuals with severe disabilities. The system itself through its actions may support the limited expectations by its minimal expectations of teachers.

It breaks my heart and makes me angry when I occasionally see teachers that I have trained that are now useless to their students, giving them nothing of benefit to them educationally. They, by their actions, communicate that they are glorified baby sitters. Even though I have trained those people, I hope for the opportunity someday to sit across the table from them as an advocate for parents. I would say, "I know you know better, because I taught you. I appealed to you to not become what you have become! I warned you that districts will pressure you to be mediocre. And yet, here you are, doing little or nothing for your students educationally. You entertain them all day with frivilous activities when what they need is an education. You do nothing for them and then blame their lack of progress on THEM, saying they have plateaued.  Shame on you!"

So sad.

"the poorest of the poor"

When I was in Kampala, Uganda this summer, my host, Jeff Atherstone found out about my addiction (I mean love) for coffee and said he would take me on the "Kampala Coffee tour" which I think is something he made up. But it was great going to these various coffee places which were all slightly different and all excellent. I think my favorite would have been a place called 1000 Cups, but I ordered this goofy thing with mint in it. Anyway, at one stop we met with a friend of mine who is working in Kampala at the moment. As we were sitting there enjoying our lattes, a friend of hers walked up from a relief organization that was working there in Uganda. He introduced himself as being with this organization that is working with poor folks living there. He gave me his business card which had the tag line in quotes at the bottom, "working with the poorest of the poor." I immediately had a question, but was afraid that I knew that answer and didn't really want to embarass my friend, but I decided to ask him the question anyway.

"You work with the poorest of the poor?"
"Yes we do!" he replied proudly.
"Then you with poor people who are disabled?"
"Well, no, we don't work with disabled people."
"Well, then you really don't work with the poorest of the poor. Because the poorest would be those with disabilities among those living in poverty."

I didn't push it any further, however, both my friend, my host, my traveling companion and even the guy working with the poorest of the poor knew I was right. He had to walk away understanding that the claim on his business card was not correct. Hopefully he would follow up with a discussion with those who were in leadership with him or above him about the statement. At the very least, I hope he would have to hedge a bit the next time he described his organization as working with the poorest of the poor, basically because it is NOT TRUE!

So often when you talk to Christian leaders about those with disabilities and that they should reach out to people having this socially devalued characteristic, their response is, "I didn't know." I have to say that I don't believe them. As soon as I ask this guy, who I am sure has a huge heart for people living in poverty, who is spending his life, his talents with the poor of Africa which is no small thing, immediately he recognized that I was right. He knew he was NOT working with the poorest of the poor. I didn't need to explain anything to him. All I needed to do was mention that disabled poor people are poorer and he immediately recognized it.

So why then are they not working with that group of people if it is so obvious that they are the poorest of the poor and they identify themselves as working with the poorest of the poor? I can only say that these omissions are representative of choices. I choose to work with a particular group of people with one characteristic and choose not to work with another group of people with another characteristic. It is a choice. It is not an oversight. If it were not a choice, then if this organization who claims to be working with the poorest of the poor, would respond with immediate action! "Oh my goodness! We didn't realize that we were not getting to those who are in the most desperate condition of poverty! Thank you for bringing this to our attention." But if the response is a casual, "No we don't work with people with disabilities who are poor" then you must understand that this is a choice to NOT do what your tagline says you are doing.

Look at the mission statements for any Christian organization (just about) and wonder whether that statement would include outreach to people with disabilities. Then look at that church, that organization and see whether they are doing what they actually claim to be doing as evidenced by the presence of EVERYONE who should be included in their mission. If people with disabilities are not there, it is probably a choice on their part to exclude, not an oversight.


Friday, September 23, 2011


A friend of mine was recently admitted to the hospital. Even though a relatively young man, perhaps about 30, he has been struggling with hip pain for several years. To hear the medical description of the condition of his hip would make a brave person curl up in a fetal position and cry. I knew he was in pain, and was looking forward to a hip replacement. Well, he has had the replacement and now is in the hospital recovering. "The pain is the pain of healing!" he tells me which is much different then the pain of the past and I am very sure is encouraging to him as he knows that pain will soon stop.

When my wife visited him yesterday, she noticed that he had the number "428" on his hospital wrist band. The blessed life we have led as a family has not provided the need to be in the hospital, other than to visit others, very often. Kathi asked his mother, "What is the 428?" "That is the number of times he has been admitted to the hospital" she casually replied. How do you respond to that? To have been so ill over your life that you would have been admitted so many times, in a young life. I quickly realized once again, that I don't know what it is like to be a person with chronic health problems.

My friend (who I have only known for a short time and who has been unusually healthy by his standards) has had about 15 hospital stays per year. I have had 1 every 27 years. Are there words to say to understand this difference between two lives?
It is easy to talk about the sovereignty of God when you are on my side of the hospital stay equation.
I have another friend who recently related that she had lost 3 children who had not survived to birth, being miscarriages.
With two wonderful adult children, it is easy to talk about the sovereignty of God when you are on my side of the birth of children.

I am reminded once again of the John 9 passage. Man born blind, disciples ask who sinned, Jesus responds “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work." When the sovereignty of God is difficult in another person's life, is my response, "It sucks to be you." Is it, "There but for the grace of God go I." Could it be, "My pain is less so that I can help you to bear up under your pain." "My time has not been spent in the hospital so that I can spend time with you in the hospital." I experience my life so that the works of God might be displayed, in my life and through what I do in the lives of others.

"To whom much is given, much is expected!" (Luke 12:42)