Blog 2 2020: Individuality and Belonging
Welcome to the second of my one page blogs I am publishing every two months, in the hope they will stimulate thoughts and discussion without taking up too much of your busy time. Please feel free to contribute, challenge and share any comments and ideas about the points raised – I do not profess to be an expert and every day is a ‘school day’ for me!
On this occasion I am going to share some thoughts about language and categorisation and the impact on individuals. Even the term ‘Disabled’ feels like a millstone around the neck due to the intimation we are defined in some way as deactivated or largely incapable, when in fact those with disabilities usually have a multitude of other skills, talent and experience as well as incredible resilience as a result of the conditions, fatigue or pain they have to manage on a daily basis. This, as well as the fear of being treated differently or excluded, is why many with those conditions that have a long-term substantial effect on their daily living (Equality Act definition), feel reluctant to discuss this identity with others. Other terms such as ‘neurodiverse’ or ‘impairment’ go some way to avoiding the ‘disability’ stigma – nevertheless the Act affords essential protection, particularly for the only protected group whose members have to prove their identity before they are allowed to belong.
The clustering of diverse groups occurs in an attempt to better manage and understand the characteristics and needs of protected communities in general terms. Disability for example covers a broad ranges of conditions, but then the impact of a permanent injury or condition on each individual often varies greatly. Other groups face similar clustering such as ‘BAME’ which does little to reflect the vast range of cultures, colours, religions and heritage within those communities; or ‘LGBT+’ for which the powerful rainbow image coveys so much in terms of many different sexual orientations. The same spectrum of identities is true for other groups and we must never lose sight of the individuals behind the labels who deserve our support and protection. This week there was another helpful and interesting debate on Twitter about intersectionality, facilitated by @WeCops which I recommend you read – valuing difference has to mean valuing individual difference for it to offer true value.
Does this mean that diversity, equality and inclusion for individuals is too complex and intractable to support? Not at all, if we recognise that ‘normal’ is entirely subjective and it takes genuine curiosity and interest to allow meaningful support and empathy towards those different to us. Strategies are important but must rely on those with lived experience to inform plans that are more likely to result in lasting improvements. Moreover they have to be confident that those plans will be implemented consistently, without being stymied by politics and regardless of where they work or live. Staff networks offer that lived experience and free advice – the members may be outspoken at times and sceptical following many years of outrage and frustration, but they are highly committed to supporting change for the better and those who genuinely seek it (we know and value many of them).
We all have a common need in that we wish to be recognised as individuals whilst being given every opportunity to belong. This includes those who are not considered to be part of a ‘minority group’ and real risks arise from using derogatory language such as ‘just white middle-aged men’ or ‘male, stale and pale’ (I could add ‘agile’ but I won’t!) – They need to know they are valued and we need their support whilst informing them of real examples of discrimination, exclusion and inequality others suffer because of their difference. We also need to recognise it is easy to make assumptions as not all differences are obvious; and the most pressing needs may not relate to someone’s visible difference. I believe an overwhelming majority of individuals at all levels want to do the right thing and should not be swayed by the risk of being labelled ‘politically correct’, ‘Virtue Signaller’ or ‘Woke’ in the negative sense. We must work closer than ever to be the change we want to see and be, the ‘wholehearted people’ Brené Brown once described: with the courage to be imperfect; the compassion to be kind to ourselves and others; and connecting though authenticity, to be who we really are and enable others to confidently and safely say ‘I am enough’.