Nothing like a holiday to relax the body, clear the mind and reinvigorate the creative spirit, I say. But there's nothing like a great book to make that holiday a wee bit more stimulating.
My choice Solving Tough Problems, by Adam Kahane.
I know, I know, it's not the trashy gay novel that I could have read on the beach that would have been Solving Hard Problems (snort comedy is so cheap).
What better way to change the world, though or at least plan it than swotting up on a bit of theory while reclining in the manner that one would in such a changed world?
In his book, which I recommend if you like a change from the usual guru-ish bragging (he talks more about his failures than successes), Kahane canvases dictatorship, describing it thus:
- The dictator doesn't listen
- Subjects are scared to talk
- Subjects exhibit traits such as pessimism, cynicism, lack of self-confidence & self-management
- There is painfully slow innovation
- Subjects hesitate to speak up and stand up for themselves; if they do, they are very polite
I thought: Gee, that sounds familiar.
You're thinking: Hang on, there are no dictatorships (in the western world, at least).
Sorry to burst your bubble and return from the antipodes with such bad news, but I think an unspoken, modern dictatorship is alive and well in New Zealand and in other similar civilisations. I'm calling it the "Disability Dictatorship".
Let's go through it bullet by bullet (the irony):
- The dictator doesn't listen: In this case the inattentive dictator is the "system" and the people who work (in) it the Ministry of Health (we've said we're not sick), Ministry of Education (we've said we're not special), Work and Income (we've said we're not invalids), Needs Assessment (we've said we know what we need). I won't go on, it's boring. People who experience disability continue to go unheard in our plea for coherent language, appropriate policy and competent practice.
- Subjects are scared to talk: In my experience, very few disabled people have the confidence to speak openly if they feel they are not getting their needs met or having their rights infringed. Sure there are some who are vocal and agitate for improvement. But the overwhelming majority of people and families impacted by disability are grateful for the little support they have to survive, are afraid to lose what they have and, therefore, remain silent.
- Subjects exhibit traits such as pessimism, cynicism, lack of self-confidence & self-management: Again, there are exceptions to the rule, but this element falls into two categories. Pessimistic, cynical activists and your everyday, average disabled person who lacks confidence and competence to do anything much more than claim a benefit and sit on a couch in their home, a home, or a day facility.
- There is painfully slow innovation: You only have to compare computers and wheelchairs to witness the lack of innovation in solutions to mobility and assistive technology. If the same or equivalent levels of investment had gone into researching innovations in assistive devices as have gone into advancing personal computers to the iteration of the iPad, I'd be wearing my wheelchair as an accessory today, not lugging it into my car with a winch.
- Subjects hesitate to speak up and stand up for themselves; if they do, they are very polite: Linked to fear of talking above, sadly in my experience a lot if not most people impacted by disability are terrified to speak out, complain and ask for more, for fear of neglect, victimisation and even abuse. The disabled community is unique in that we rely on the "system" to fund support for the basic necessities of life shelter, food, cleanliness. People have so much to lose that they remain courteous to their detriment in order to avoid the risk of punitive consequences or withdrawals of support.
Kahane says politeness is a way of not talking. It keeps the status quo. As long as status quo works we can afford to be polite. But when we see that the status quo is no longer working we have to speak up.
In my opinion, the status quo is no longer working for disabled people, so I'm speaking up. In the past weeks I've witnessed people being dictated to by bureaucratic officials (who, to give them their due, are only doing their jobs) because of archaic policy decisions. I've reassured people who are scared that their ability to get up in the morning will be compromised. And I've seen the progress made by the disability movement, in terms of securing human rights, begin to retreat.
I'm seriously concerned, but that's nothing new. What is new is that I'm impolitely naming it in no uncertain terms: The Disability Dictatorship.
I think Kahane would describe giving disabled people more than the mediocre, policy-spoken "ordinary life" a tough problem. "Tough problems usually don't get solved peacefully," he says. "They either don't get solved at all they get stuck - or they get solved by force. [But] there is another way... people can talk and listen to each other."
But in order for this "generative dialogue" to happen, Kahane points out that the parties to such a dialogue in this case, people who experience disability and the bureaucrats who administer the system that controls the disability industry must overcome their fear of losing control, identity, position, power, even their life. He says "victims" of dictatorships are more likely to do this because they have nothing else to lose.
For bureaucrats, control, identity, position, power are indeed at stake. For people impacted by disability they are luxury items and life itself, albeit ordinary, could indeed be the only thing left to lose.
Look at me being pessimistic and cynical.
In fact, I'm optimistic and quite sincere. I truly believe that the opportunity for a group of committed, open, empathetic and creative people to take the time to sit in a room for long enough to begin to really talk and listen to each other not politely, but with honesty and passion could create remarkable things.
The question remains: who would be in that room with me?
Here is Adam Kahane speaking about complex social challenges:
Origan Source: http://www.philippatston.com/blog/a-modern-dictatorship/