Towards human rights and human compassion 

Words matter.  Millions of people have found out that life is less for them because of what the culture around them calls them.  They find the label of disability serves as a verdict of the kind of person they are, the kind of person they can become, a verdict of their ability to love  and their chances of being loved,  a description of what life means and their role in it, and a sentence to a life of lesser access to the events, resources, and experiences that give life hope, happiness, and meaning.  They are, in others eyes,  defined by what is difficult in their life- not by what they care about, what they hope for, who or how they are loved, or by where their passions and abilities lie.
The “truth” they are sold is that what is difficult for them is all that is important, can be important,  or will ever be important in their life. They are treated as everything about them- their feelings, their thoughts, their decisions, their relationships, their values, their hopes- are somehow symptoms or expressions of their “disability.”   They face this “truth” every day and hear it in countless way, both spoken and unspoken.  If they choose not to accept it they are viewed as unrealistic, delusional, and a victim of their own self deception. In fact they are often told that their inability or unwillingness to accept how limited they are is, in itself, proof of their limitations.
Sometimes between the lines, sometimes openly they are told that because of their disability, their problems, their issues that they have a life not worth living.  And they find that message amplified and reinforced in the culture around them, in the way people talk about them and in the expectations people have.  Not only are they told their life is not worth living, but too often in ways subtle and not subtle they are treated that way.
They are fitted differently into the  social fabric around them.  Prejudice and stigma are everyday experiences for most.  Opportunities that for others are a given are a battle and struggle for them. Sometimes they just don’t exist.   Employment is harder to find, if it is found at all.  They are often financially worse off  because of this and things like housing, food, and medical care are problematic.
When they need help they find out in terms of public policy they are  disposable.  Services of virtually every kind are marginal at best regardless of where they live.  When budgets are developed and cuts are considered services for them are among the first on the chopping block.  Many people at their most vulnerable find themselves  left to their own devices.  For example, many states are cutting already skeletal mental health budgets by enormous amounts.  People who right now are inadequately served will not be served at all.  The consequences are widespread human tragedy.
Thousands and thousands of people have raised their voices to address these issues.  Yet for most people labeled as disabled they are daily dehumanized and disregarded.  Human rights are for them awash with qualification.  They find themselves marooned in a strange land that on one hand tells them they cost too much, expect too much and ask too much and on the other hand tells them the cost of the help they seek is to surrender their right to make decisions about their own life and to accept a definition of themselves that makes much of what they want out of life unllkely or impossible.
There is among many people an effort and a conversation about how to move toward communities of compassion.  In virtually every area there are people trying to find ways to make compassion an effective reality in their lives and the lives of those in their community.  There is a growing recognition that caring about other people as people is not an unrealistic goal, but the essence of being realistic in a time when much social interaction is calling names and noise.
We seem to be becoming increasingly a culture of warring tribes.  What binds us together and gives us common identity seems increasingly fragile and insubstantial.  If you are different (rather you be called disabled, sick, or whatever) you are likely to be the victim of tribal warfare.  The beginning is to know that none of us are simply the names we are called or the ways we separate ourselves from others;  It is to know that life can be better for all of us and that part of the measure of that possibility is how well we care for others regardless of their place in the pecking order.  It is to know that in caring not only do we help others but in the end plant the seeds for our own growth and happiness.

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One thought on “Towards human rights and human compassion ”

  1. Our movement for human rights in psychiatry ought to be taking the lead in supporting one another, but instead we find even more nastiness in the movement than outside of it (or so it often seems, anyway). We are politically powerless, and we need to figure a way out of this, but before we can even talk about strategy, the first thing we need to do is address the almost complete lack of solidarity in our movement. Thank you once again, Larry, for your thoughtful writing about this and other important issues.


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