Hate, Accept, Tolerate, Embrace: 4 steps to our Groove!
As a child, I hated the entire concept of disability. To hate something so much means that a person must separate himself from it. I did not want to have anything to do with it. There were healthy, able-bodied people seemingly everywhere… on television, at school, at church. And there were those disabled people that I would see every now and then in public. They made me feel awkward and uneasy. I didn’t want to be around them. Later in my childhood, I would see more of them in the summers when I went to camp. But I wasn’t like those people. I did not think of myself in any way as disabled. I was better than that.
As much as I hated my association with the concept of disability, I had no choice but to accept it. I walked slower. I could not run. I could not lift heavy objects. I could not ride a bike or play sports. Even though I didn’t consider myself disabled, I had to accept the fact that I was, at the very least limited.
When I reached high school, fate led me to meet a few people with disabilities who were impressive, personable and productive. That trend continued in college and a slow maturation process began, to the point where I began to tolerate the thought of disability. I recognized that no matter how hard I tried to fight it, disability was part of my identity. It was as if I had lived my entire life without having the courage to look in a mirror. And after a long stare, I realized I was in part defined by the “D” word. I still hated that part of my identity and refused to allow it to dominate my focus. I simply tolerated it.
Over time, my newfound tolerance removed barriers that led to learning about disability history, meeting more great people with disabilities and actually starting to embrace it and finally owning it as a part of my identity! I went from hatred, to acceptance, to tolerance, to embracing. It was when I finally reached the stage of embracing that I started to grow leaps and bounds in every area of life. When I became ONE with my disability and viewed it as a beautiful natural part of human diversity, the world opened up to me and my path through “On A Roll Radio” to “The Strength Coach” was paved. I was then able to move into my groove!
Race relations in America can be compared to my experience with disability. I was born in March 1964 in rural Bay Springs, Mississippi into a world of hate. Three months after I was born, three civil rights workers were murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi out of hate. A month later hate was in the air when 341 were injured and 774 were arrested in race riots in the same town. These were the headlines but the underlying theme was the same across the land. We hated each other.
And then came July 2 when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Hate started to yield to the fact that America was changing and like it or not, it was time to accept.
It seems that in the 50 years since the volatile civil rights movement, Americans have been stuck in the mode where racial diversity is something that we tolerate. That’s kind of a good thing. Tolerance has led to great accomplishments. The end of a segregationist philosophy. The beginning of a shared experience of Americans who started to realize that we had more in common than in conflict. The emergence of a “middle class” of African Americans and all minorities. Some of the resistance to the pursuit of the American Dream has eroded, although much of it still exists. But tolerance has led to a healing path.
We have come a long way, but the recent headlines reveal to me that we are still tolerating racial diversity. The fact that race is such a hot topic reveals that we are not at a point of embracing that part of our identity yet.
I could not become complete until I embraced my disability as a part of who I am. That embracing made me complete. The conflict within myself ended, and using my entire being in congruence, I was able to step into my groove!
In much the same way, America needs to take that last step and embrace ethnic diversity before she can become all that she is capable of. America is better than she was, but she is still tolerating. She needs to take that next step and get out of her own way to realize her destiny. It is about time that tolerance leads to embracing diversity and when that happens, we as a society can finally reach our potential to become one nation, under a groove!