I wrestle with a challenge that I never seem to solve: My “uniqueness” is obvious. Before people even know my name, they see it – at least one particular characteristic: I carry a white cane, which announces that I’m “blind.” Okay, I don’t call my self that; I simply say that I can’t see..
Blindness does not define me; it is just something with which I live.
I’m also gifted, an adult survivor of abuse, a woman, a musician/composer, a gardener, neighbor, Christian and at the most basic level, a person.
The sad thing about this is that people make all sorts of assumptions, most of them steeped in prejudice and stereotypes. The result: being accepted into groups as the equal, capable adult that I am almost never happens. That leaves me with a few choices.
One is to put up with the assumptions and allow people to treat me as though I am a perpetual child. They pass things around me, instead of handing them to me; they ask about me while I’m standing right there. They marvel because I do the most basic things, such as dressing myself or walking around a room…and so it goes.
Another choice is to stand my ground. That means I am constantly trying to inform, correct or resist what people do. this is exhausting and does not accomplish the goal of being a whole member in a group.
There is a third choice, the one I like best. I used to have a therapist who was a “one liner” kind of guy. He would say, “Join where you are successful.”
That tends to be what I do. I need some refresher courses in this from time to time, but when I focus on this, the results are good.
For me, success is when I can be myself, knowing that others and I are appreciating each other’s unique traits and enjoying the ways in which we are alike. These days, I find such wonderful relationships in my neighborhood and in the musical community.
It is tempting to think that the struggle of being different is limited to those with disabilities, adult survivors, or for that matter gifted people. In actuality, however, everyone has this challenge. Assumptions seem to be a constant part of group dynamics; insecurity and pride are frequent barriers to drawing closer. We either work too hard to belong or end up walking away.
Relationships are messy. They are never as clear or well defined as we would like them to be. They require constant learning and work.
Here are three helpful things I have learned along the way:
*Knowing who I am is foundational. My therapist had a line for this one, too: “The clearer you are about yourself, the less power others have over you.”
In social work school, we had another one: “Don’t compare your insides with others’ outsides.”
*Every relationship starts with an invitation. This means people are free to accept or decline. If they don’t want to become friends or are not able to regard me as a person, I am free to move on.
*Honoring each person as he or she is has such wonderful power. In so doing, I refrain from assumptions and celebrate that individual.
Practicing these makes it more likely that we can come together as the precious unique, relational creatures that we are. .