Cultural Shifting - 15 Years Later

2017 marks the 15th anniversary of my book, "Cultural Shifting," which was the last of a trilogy I had designed earlier in my career.  I was convinced then, as I am now, that the key to success in the community for people with disabilities is found in the "macro" side of the equation.  That is, in rehabilitation you canfocus on the "micro" which looks at the individual and ways they can function better (think therapy); or you can put attention on the "macro" which looks at the world around the individual and how changes can happen there.

My first book, "Interdependence: The Route to Community," (1991 - 1995) compared and contrasted the micro and macro aspects.  I followed this book up with "Beyond Difference," (1996) which explored the key aspects of community change.  These 2 books, then set the stage for the last of the trilogy, "Cultural Shifting," (2002) that focused attention on culture, community, and leadership to promote change.

In celebration of its 15th anniversary, I recently re-read "Cultural Shifting," and felt good about how well the book holds up, all these years later.  Publishers call this "shelf life," and it seems that this fits for "Cultural Shifting."  The book examines the macro aspects of culture, community, and how change applies to these concepts.

Cultural Shifting was originally published through TRN Press and can be tracked at if any of you are interested in taking a look.  Although I have since written 4 more books, I still feel such an important kinship to my first 3 books, and especially with "Cultural Shifting."

Social Intelligence

Social scientists are quite convinced that of all the types of intelligence we possess, the one most associated with life success is Emotional Intelligence (EQ) or social intelligence.  This is the ability to recognize that our behavior affects others around us and can account for how we are received in social situations.  It seems that we all know people who are highly intelligent, yet can't quite get along with other people.  In a simple analysis, these folks lack social intelligence.

This topic of social intelligence has been on my mind as I prepare for a training session I will be doing soon designed to look a bit deeper at the notion of social capital.  How do we learn "social intelligence?"  Most of us never take classes on this topic, yet, in preparing for life success, as measured through relationship success, social intelligence seems to be the key ingredient.

So I have begun to identify aspects related to social intelligence - or the behaviors that make us socially attractive to other people.  My lens for this task has been my own perspective in social discourse - what kind of person do I find to be socially attractive.  Here are a couple of the items I have chronicled.  As you review this list, let me know what items I might have missed.

*  Be nice to everyone you meet                *  Be positive, even in hard situations

*  Don't talk only about yourself                 *  Don't correct people in public

*  Never put others down                            *  Be the first to smile, say hello, shake hands

*  Always take the high road                       *  Never talk down to anyone

*  Never laugh at another's misfortune       *  Look as nice as possible, even in casual situations

These are but a few of a long list I have been assembling, but I wonder what you think about this topic.  What are the things that make people socially attractive to you?


Reading: The Road to Literacy

I just got back from a week at the beach.  We went to Sandbridge Beach, just south of Virginia Beach and it has been a respite for my family and our friends since our first visit there in 1974 - and this year, as in the past, it did not disappoint.

We had a wonderful week with our friends around food, sun, surf, and some cold beverages!  I had a chance to golf a couple 3 rounds, and caught up on some long overdue reading, finishing 3 excellent books.  There is nothing that baits the intellect like sitting by the sea with a good book.

This vacation got me thinking about the importance of reading.  It has been said that the literate person should be reading 25 to 50 books a year - and - that the majority of this reading should be outside of your field of specialty.  The diversity of reading is thought to push the intellect and to stimulate a broader perspective on life.

I try to read as much as I can, but I must admit, I am not averaging 25 books per year.  In fact, I saw a statistic that suggests that most Americans (and I suspect this might be true in other countries as well) don't read ANY books at all after they get out of school.  

Now I am sure that if this statistic is accurate it might be influenced by a number of factors.  Certainly we know that newspaper reading is down significantly, with many people choosing to get their news online, or via television.  Perhaps it may also be due to the declining discipline that seems to be present.  Reading a book does take discipline and time - time that many people say they do not have.

Whatever the reason, it is a sad state of affairs.  This decline in literacy has an impact on a society and a culture.  When people do not exercise their intellect, or chose lower discipline ways to think about things around us, I think we decline as a civilization.

So, how many books have you read this past year?

Another Story from Larry

A couple blogs back, I posted a blog of a story sent to me by my friend Larry Tummino, who is a long time disability advocate with the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) in Massachusetts.  In his years advocating for people with disabilities he has chronicled these experiences in a book and I wanted to post another of his stories, with his permission, of course.

The Book Club

At a recent conference on Shared Living there was a panel consisting of caregivers, agency staff and individuals being supported who shared their stories about how people came to live together and what life has been like for all involved.  A women named Joan raised her had and shared the following:

I am involved in a book club that meets regularly at the library.  My daughter who also lives with me will stay home with Mary so I can attend.  Mary is in her seventies and is deaf and blind.  One day my daughter wasn't able to do that for me.  I asked Mary (using hand signing) if she would like to come to the book club with me.  Mary quickly asked, "do they have anything to eat?"  I said, "we always have cookies and coffee" to which she quickly replied, "I want to go."  So off we went.  Mary sat next to me and munched away but also occasionally signing with me to find out what people were saying about the book.

When we got home my daughter was back and Mary could not wait to tell her about the book club.  She said (hand signing) "there was a story about a woman who had left home at a young age and did not return until her father was dying."  She went on to say it was just like her - she left home and went to a school (Ferndale Institution) and did not see her father until he was almost dead.

Now Mary goes to book club with Joan all of the time.  And other people in the group are asking how hand signing works........

Social Academics

One of the unique aspects of our agency, CLASS is that along with the direct supports we offer to folks with disabilities in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), we have also started to focus on community based research.  This is in an effort to gather more empirical evidence related to social capital, community engagement and the inclusion of people with disabilities in everyday life.

This research effort has produced some important data and just this past Nov (2016) we had an important article published in the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies that showed some stark disparities in community engagement realities.  You can track this article by its title, "Someone to Love, Somewhere to Live, Something to Do."

Just recently, however, I came across a report we filed in 2009 that summarized a project we did back then we called the "TEACHER Program."  TEACHER was an acronym for "Training, Empowerment, Access to information, Consultation, Help, Experience, and Resources" and was a project CLASS conducted with the Pittsburgh City Schools and with it we introduced the concept of "Social Academics," which refers to a teaching model that promotes classrooms as communities.  With it we introduced multiple "classroom community building strategies" (CCBS).  We framed social academics as student-centered and capitalize on each student's strengths and stratagize any necessary adaptations for his/her overall success in both academics and socialization.

During the 2008-2009 school year, CLASS staff worked in 4 general education classrooms in the Pittsburgh City Schools.  In this effort we worked with 76 students, 18 who had an IEP, along with 10 teachers.  We established 4 classroom teams to promote collaboration in planning, and here are some of the things we found:

*  100% of teachers found the program helpful to encourage full participation of students

*  75% of teachers stated that their students better understood the concept of community.

*  100% of teachers reported that the program enhanced their students ability to cooperate

*  75% of teachers reported that the program was effective in helping students with IEP"s in building peer relationships

*  75% of teachers reported that participating in this program changed their approach to teaching.

These results are encouraging in the inclusion effort.  We know that relationships for children with disabilities in school with able-bodied peers is the secret to an inclusive community down the road.  Still there is more we need to learn, try, and do in this effort.  Having children with and without disabilities build social capital is the key variable that will change the world.

Think about it - social academics has probably been the secret to your success.  Certainly academic topics have their place, but the real variable to life success is our learning to get along with other diverse people.


Dialogue on Social Capital - the Take-a-ways

I have had the pleasure of working with disability advocates recently in Lancaster PA to explore the aspects of social capital.  In my first visit we did an overview of social capital, what it is, and why it is important to all of us.  This session summarized the literature on social capital, explored benchmarks of community engagement, and the fact that people with disabilities have marginally less social capital.

I recently returned to Lancaster for a second round and to dig deeper on this concept and to explore ways and means we can assist people find more opportunities for building social capital.  We had a more focused discussion and used a "positive deviance" analysis to pull out some of the variables and realities tied to people who are successful in relationships to see what might be common.  It was a lively discussion.

At the end of the session I asked these folks if they could summarize our conversation in one word what would it be.  Here is what they said:

Inclusion,  Relationships,  Special sauce,  Investing,  Empowerment,  Regularity,  Open-minded,  Person-Focused,  Persistent,  Perseverant,  Similarity

What is one word you would use to summarize your relationships/friendships?




The Basics of Relationships

I just finished my summer course at Pitt on Human Relations.  This class, which I have been teaching for the past 15 years, is focused on the importance of human relationships and how we can work to build better connections with people in our lives.

For this class I use Stephen Covey's book, "The 8th Habit," which explores relationships from a number of angles.  One of the perspectives that Covey writes about is the notion of "Deposits and Withdrawals" with the connections we have.  He shares that relationships are strengthened by deposits, and weakened by withdrawals, much like our bank accounts.  This perspective sharpens the understanding of relationships.

Think about it....when you do something extra, or follow-up on a promise you are depositing in to that friendship.  Conversely, when you break a promise, or put out demands, you are actually making a withdrawal in that connection.  When the withdrawals supersede the deposits, the relationship is put at risk.

So where are you on this issue.  Are you assuring that your relationships have more deposits than withdrawals.  If not, you have some important social capital work to do!

The Impact We Make

I was recently in Massachusetts to speak at a state-wide Family Support Conference on social capital and the impact that relationships have.  While there, I reconnected with my friend, Larry Tummino from the Department of Developmental Services.  Larry has been in the field for many years and well understands how critical relationships are in life.  After my visit, Larry sent me the following reflection he got from his wife, a retired Unitarian Minister.  Read it and think.

The Unseen Power of Presence

He volunteered with a dying patient, expecting to go through the five stages of grief at the first meeting.  Instead she talked about hooking rugs: the needle, the thread, the cloth, the rhythmic movement of the hands.

He tried other matters in conversation - she talked of hooking rugs.

On the next visit she spoke of the intricacies and hardships of ice-fishing that her husband had done before his death.

Week after week, hooking rugs and ice-fishing.

Angered, he said to friends, "I can't go on with this interminable hooking rugs and ice-fishing."

One day as they sat in the nursing home cafeteria, she going on, he bored and vexed with hooking rugs and ice-fishing, the room went silent, air turned a luminous shade of green, hooking rugs and ice-fishing stopped.

She leaned over and said, "I could not have done this without you," then on again with hooking rugs and ice-fishing.

Soon after she died.  At the funeral relatives said to him, "Thank you, all she ever spoke about was you."

Reflections on Human Relations

This summer semester I am teaching a course at the University of Pittsburgh's School of Health and Rehab Sciences, titled, "Human Relations in the Health Care Environment."  It is a course I have taught for the past 15 years and each summer I have some 30 young Juniors and Seniors in my class.

When I first started teaching this class I tried to focus in on health care relationships, but it soon dawned on me that human relationships are just that - human relationships.  It doesn't matter, really, where you find yourself with others, how you build, maintain or nurture important relationships follow a similar path.  So I have framed the course in a more generic way, looking at values, aspects, and strategies that might be employed in any/all of our relationships.

For this class I use a book written by Steven Covey titled, "The 8th Habit".  You are probably familiar with Steven Covey and his "7 Habits of Highly Effective People."  This book was a monster best seller in the early 90's and still registers as one of the most popular books ever written in the past 50 years.  The book I use however, is a follow-up book where Covey added one more habit to his thesis.

The students like the book, not just because it is relevant and easy to digest, but it is also really inexpensive.  They can pick the book up at Amazon, or any other on-line bookstore for a couple bucks.  As a parent, who helped buy college text books for 3 children, I am happy that we can use such a relevant resource for such a low cost.

One of the first assignments I give the students is to have them write their own eulogy.  As you might imagine, their reaction is usually one of surprise and concern.  They think it is morbid and can't see the relevance.  But I clarify that I want them to think about their life, and surmise they have lived a long time, and when they die, their best friend will do the eulogy - what will they say.

In a way, this exercise really summarizes human relations.  The students write about things that you might if you were doing your own eulogy.  They talk about people they have relationships with, and what makes these relationships special.

So what about you - what would you say in your own eulogy!  If you focus on this legacy, and then act on it, you will surely enhance the connections you have.

Lessons From the Male Solarium

Along with my work with CLASS, I have been a long time board member of SWPPA (Southwestern PA Partnership on Aging), a nonprofit, advocacy group focused on aging and disability issues.  This work with SWPPA takes me back to my roots, where my first job in human services, way back in 1970, was at Kane Hospital in Pittsburgh.  When I first started at Kane, there were some 2,000 residents, mostly elders, is a large, gothic facility in the south hills. of Pittsburgh.

Working at Kane Hospital was a powerful experience for me for a number of reasons.  One was that it introduced me to the negative effects of institutionalization.  At Kane, I saw seemingly warm and compassionate professionals treat residents as objects or commodities.  These staff were not malicious, but there is something about institutionalization that can turn a warm heart, cold.

My first assignment was in an area of Kane, called the "male solarium."  This was a long, narrow wing of the hospital that housed over 500 patients.  Across from the male solarium, through a courtyard, was the female solarium exactly the same.  My job was as the male solarium social worker, and to cater to the residents needs, working with them individually and their families.  The average age of my 500 clients was 83.

As I wandered back and forth in this male solarium, for the 3 years I worked there, I can still hear the pleas of the residents.  They all wanted to go home and be with people they knew or loved rather than to stay in this facility.  I reacted to these pleas with countless phone calls to families, most who just did not have the capacity to care for their relative.  Certainly some situations were medically complex and the families were just not equipped - but these were exceptions.  Most of the rejections I heard were that the family had to work, and did not have the time, space, or wherewithal.

The other lesson from the male solarium introduced me to the wisdom and amazing experiences these folks had in their lives.  I would have individual conversations as well as group activities that would just amaze me.  I came to wonder who was helping whom.  It also saddened me in that this wisdom and life experience I was privileged to experience was locked inside the walls of that solarium

Today, some 48 years later, I continue to advocate for all people who are isolated, devalued, or institutionalized.  But these experiences, honed in the male solarium, were life-shaping for me.  In a personal way I learned that the more these folks are liberated to be a part of our communities, and to have opportunities to build relationships, the better we will become as a culture.


The Subtle Aspects of Friendship

As I share issues related to social capital with colleagues, the conversation usually starts with the notion of the importance of relationships in our lives.  We know that the more connections we have the better the life outcomes.  There is so much evidence of these realities that there is really no debate.  Relationships are tied to better health, more happiness, greater life accomplishments, and even longer life expectancy.

Then the explorations quickly shifts to the struggles of building social capital for some groups of people who are at social risk. We know that some people have a more difficult time finding, building, or fitting in with possible friends.  These folks then are at serious risk of social isolation, which has huge negative effects in people's lives.  In fact, we know today that as many people die in the United States from social isolation as from all smoke related diseases and conditions, annually.

The natural next step in the process then is to look at ways and means that presently isolated people might be able to build more social capital.  In this process, my colleagues and I have attempted to identify the important steps and stages.  These include identifying the interests people have, then to explore the general community for matching groups.  Next we want to identify the cultural expectations of these groups; and finally to find a "gatekeeper;" an indigenous member who is valued by others in the group to do some introductions.

All of this is well and good, yet there are friendship subtleties that are much harder to articulate and identify, that must be considered.  These are those softer behaviors that align people to us; they include things like how we greet people, the spacing with others, the nature of the conversation, what we talk about, questions we might ask, things related to the topic, and things related to life.

Just think about those subtle social issues that annoy you with some of the people you relate to in social gathering points of your life.  With these realities, most of us have learned through experience.  Very rarely do people teach us these things, or that we attend a class that might review the "dos" and "don'ts" in social relationship.

Yet, these subtle aspects in socializing might be the key to friendship building.  So, keep an eye on this blog as we explore more of these things down the road.  More, if you have some thoughts on how these softer elements of relationships can be enhanced, feel free to share them here.  Your ideas might be the key to helping folks build better social capital experiences.

International Impact

There is an old adage that our world seems to get smaller and smaller.  Certainly with the advent of social media, many of us have been able to develop, maintain or enhance international relationships with simple posts and updates on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other platforms.

I have been blessed over the past couple of years to be invited to share ideas and build relationships in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Ireland, Sweden and the like.  This coming fall I will be presenting in Rome, Italy, and due to schedule conflicts, had to turn down an offer to visit Maputo, Mozambique, from a Mozambican intern we had the pleasure of working with this past fall.

In all of these international relationships and visits, I have been sharing information, strategies, and approaches on building social connections and the importance of social capital.  These invitations really speak to the universality of the message.  That is, it doesn't matter where you live, or the culture or politics of your setting, enhanced relationships will make your life better!

It also underscores that if people are devalued or off set from the culture due to a disability (or any other social variable) they are at serious risk of social isolation.  And no matter where you live, some people live in social isolation from other members of their community.

So lets work to share ideas, and reach out to people in our communities who are left behind. Get to know your neighbors and as you build social capital with these new people, everyone wins.

Attitudes - How Did Yours Develop?

I am a change agent.  In fact, most of us are (or can be)!  Through our relationships, even though it might not be our intent, we begin to influence others with our words, actions, and behaviors.  This impact is defined by sociologists as "social influence theory," and it has unfolded in your life more than you know.

Since the time of our youth, as we began to understand things, we were influenced first by our parents, then by our siblings, and then by our friends and relationships in the broader community. It is probably safe to say that most every attitude or assumption you hold today is because of someone else who influenced you in that theme.  This is not to say that we do not have independent perceptions, but that most of the things we think, and then advocate, have been planted in us by someone else.

Think about it; the notions you hold initiated with something you heard, read, saw, or seemed to be embodied by someone you respect.  And once these attitudes get framed, we often then look to confirm them, or seek out others who hold similar views.  Sometimes, when you encounter a person you respect, who has a different view than you puts you in a dilemma.  Either you need to begin to rethink your viewpoint (driven by the respect you hold for that person).  Or, you begin to distance yourself from this person who thinks differently than you.

So, stop for a minute now and think about the attitudes you harbor about things around us. Where did these attitudes come from?  When you look a little deeper, are you so sure these attitudes are correct, or inline with your values in life?  More, are you willing to change an attitude if there might be an inconsistency?

Changing the World

For most of my career, some 47 years, I have been a disability rights advocate.  This charge was instilled in me as a youngster when I would witness how some people treated my cousin Carrie, who happened to have Downs Syndrome.  She was often made fun of by other kids, and had limited opportunities, certainly far less than most of us had growing up in the blue collared town of McKees Rocks, PA.

Over the many years that followed my graduation from college, we disability rights advocates saw many gains unfold.  In the 70's we had "Right to Education," Housing, Transportation, and Vocational gains.  Through the 80's and 90's we pushed for broader civil rights and were able to pass the "American's With Disabilities Act," (ADA).  Know that all of these efforts, while not creating a true parity, were gains nonetheless.

Along with these regulatory changes came some funding; never really enough, but still helpful in the effort.  In a country as wealthy, and as abundant as the United States, there is no reason that people with disabilities, some 60 million Americans, should be denied the right to opportunity.

But as our country has made a strong right turn in attitude as witnessed by our last election, and now with a president who lost the popular vote, but somehow seems to think he has a mandate, we know that the strides made in disability rights (and most other important cultural issues) are now at risk of being changed, de-funded, or eliminated altogether.  

It is time we now come together to protect the many critical human strides we have made, and to safeguard that all people have opportunities to live the American dream.  Hubert Humphry, the respected Senator from Minnesota, and presidential candidate once said, "the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children, those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly, and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy, and the handicapped."

I See You

I have been doing some research to prepare for a training session I will be doing and am re-reading a profound book by Peter Senge, "The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook."  Senge is an iconic management/leadership guru and his 1990 book, "The Fifth Discipline," was (and continues to be) a "must-read" book in business circles.  In it he describes "learning organizations" and the Fieldbook, which came out shortly thereafter, offers exercises and strategies toward this end.

The book starts with an observation of a South African greeting used by the Natal tribes that caught my eye; and since I have written about the importance of greetings in building social capital, I thought it deserves a comment in this blog.

When tribal members meet they say: "Sawu Bona," which literally means, "I see you."  The tribal response then is, "Sikhona," which means, "I am here."  In this culture the order of exchange is critical since until you see me, I do not exist.

I love this simple notion.  We see and greet many people in the course of our days, but often don't think about the critical aspects of using our greetings to signal each others importance.  It is helpful to remember that our greetings initiate the first steps in building social capital.  How we greet people matters.

So the next time you connect with someone, take a moment to really see them.  This intention might help grow or strengthen the relationship.

As an Advocate, How do you use Social Media

Often when I am invited to do a presentation, the person introducing me will ask the audience to turn off, or silence their cell phones.  I appreciate the courtesy, but will often reverse this request and ask people to keep their cell phones on; and, if in the course of my presentation, if inspired, to take a photo of a slide I am using, or to post/tweet on social media information they are hearing.

Now most of us these days use some form of social media, and we use these sites to share, or compare, or rant, or recommend.  And, for most of us, there are 3 major platforms that often serve this purpose - Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.  Of course there is Instagram, Snapchat, and others, but the 3 mentioned seem to be the most common in my spheres.

For advocates who are looking to promote a cause or situation, it is important to understand how posting something you are hearing at a conference can have the most impact.  In the work I do, I try to use all 3, but there are some key differences we should understand in being Social Media Advocates.  That is, Facebook, which seems to be the most dominant platform, is primarily a social outlet.  This is where we mostly see what people or eating, or birthday photos of a relative, or travel photos from exotic trips.  Certainly posting something informative or instructive works on this platform, but is often lost in the social clutter.

LinkedIn is thought to be a vocational site, where people look to get job or sales leads.  Here people are posting things that promote their business or get people to know their companies or products.  Again, as advocates for some social cause we can use this platform, but again, the message might get caught in the vocational clutter.

This brings us to Twitter.  Certainly any of us reading this post know that the President of the US is a "Twitter addict," using this media most every night to advocate something or another.  Of course most of his Tweets are attacking and put people down, but are still effective in what he is advocating, which seems to be his bully-ism or bias.  For me however, the major thing I like about Twitter is that unlike Facebook and LinkedIn, which mandate that the people you connect with or "friend," agree to accept your connection, Twitter allows you to follow whomever you are interested in hearing from.  This feature, a key difference, makes Twitter, I believe, a more potent advocacy platform.

So two key take-a-ways here - one is get on Twitter and to post about that which you are passionate.  For me, as a disability advocate, I try to post on things that are progressive to the inclusion of all people movement.  The second issue, is to chose to follow those folks that inspire, educate, or share aspects that are instructive to your advocacy role.  On an upcoming blog, I will share with you some of the folks/groups I follow who share items I have found to be helpful in the cause of disability advocacy.

In the meantime, get active on Social Media and share your passions with the world!

The Road to Character

I am reading a book recently released by David Brooks titled, "The Road to Character."  Brooks is well known as a columnist and for his commentary on NPR and the Sunday talk shows.  He usually takes a conservative bent, but with this book he examines the notion of character and it has nothing to do with politics, yet in the current political climate in the United States has everything to do with politics.

He starts the book by looking at the two sides of people, one he calls the "resume side," which focuses on skills, achievements, and things you might boast about.  The other he calls the "eulogy side," which speaks more to your character, the virtues at the core, like kindness, honesty, faithfulness, and other personal dimensions.

The book then profiles some amazing people who are known more for their character, the  "eulogy side," than for their direct achievements.  Brooks explores how they developed their deep character.  Though he never once refers to our current politics, the book seems to scream out the importance of character over accomplishments, integrity over bragging, cooperation over competition.

As I digest the social impact of "The Road to Character," I salute David Brooks for bringing out this critical dimension of character in our development.  In a time when we seem to think that people's accomplishments are the things that make them great, Brooks pushes us to look deeper at people.  He reminds us that in the end it is the virtues of our character that really matter.

If your looking to find the things that really count in life, get a copy of "The Road to Character" and then think!

Being Greeted: The First Element of Belonging

In developing more social capital, the first element to consider is the greeting.  This seems so simple that people rarely consider it, but I had an experience recently that brought this critical aspect to mind.

This past month I was invited to present in Auckland, New Zealand at the Imagine Better Assembly, a forward thinking conference held every other year in that wonderful country.  Given the respect held in New Zealand for the Maori culture, the conference coordinators started the event with an official greeting called a "Powhiri." 

Now the Maori's are the indigenous inhabitants of New Zealand, and the respect held for them is deeply woven into the culture.  The "Powhiri" started with Maori tribal members performing a tradition of greeting the visitors with song, stories, and ceremony.  The tradition ended with each visitor being approached by the tribal members with a formal "hongi," where we touched foreheads and noses, and then took a breath through our noses, symbolizing the fact that we are breathing the same air together.

This ceremony was so profound that it brought tears to my eyes.  To have that kind of greeting, symbolic or otherwise, was deeply touching.  The "hongi" signals a strong respect for the newcomer, and in a simple, yet elegant way, says you are welcomed in my space.

So the next time you encounter a newcomer, regardless of where this might be, think about how you greet them.  More, go out of your way to personally seek out these people you do not know and welcome them into your space.  You might not perform a "hongi" and touch foreheads and noses, but in a way are still breathing the same air.

Someone to Love

Most of you who look at my blog know that our work in disability rights focuses on the importance of relationships and social capital.  We have worked hard to explore this concept, study, create strategies, share ideas, and promote that rehabilitation would be better off to consider the critical nature of social capital.

Part of the challenge in promoting this message, however, is that there is (was) no credible evidence that showed that social isolation was a serious problem in the disability community.  Certainly advocates, family members, and many self-advocates know that loneliness abounds, but the notion had never been adequately examined.  This reality prompted the development of an international coalition we titled, The Interdependence Network, ( and a focused effort to measure community engagement patterns of people with disabilities.  Using the "Social Capital Benchmarking Survey," developed at Harvard University by Dr. Robert Putnam, we set out to examine this issue.

I am happy to report to you that our work has completed and we have just published our paper in the Canadian Journal of Disability Studies,  The article is titled: "Somewhere to Live, Something to Do, Someone to Love: Examining Levels and Sources of Social Capital Among People with Disabilities."    You can track this paper at: but it shows conclusively how isolated people with disabilities have become.  In spite of all the excellent work done by agencies and human service providers, the very people we serve are significantly socially isolated.

We are excited that this paper now sets the ground work for the challenging effort of shifting services from micro to macro efforts designed to help people build more relationships in the community, and especially between people with and without disabilities.  So if you have the time, or inclination, take a look at this groundbreaking article and then let me know what you think.  Better yet, join the Interdependence Network and help us promote macro change.  Together, we can change the world.

Facts are Facts

It is unbelievable that in today's world we could even hear someone talk about "alternative facts," let alone from the Oval office.  Most sane people know that the facts are just that, things that are truisms on an issue that is being debated or discussed.  Facts then, should guide a thoughtful and forward thinking society to address or make progress on things that affect us and are important.

I was taken aback recently when I read some facts on social isolation, an issue that I care about in the work we do at our organization, CLASS (www,  One of these facts was reported late last year in the NY Times that since 1980's the percentage of American adults who say they are lonely doubled from 20% in 1985 to 40% of people in 2015.  This increase in loneliness is incredibly troubling in a time when we have so many outlets to develop and nurture our relationships.

The second fact, however is even more intense as we now have a better understanding of what loneliness actually does.  Research has shown that isolated people have an increase in: disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune system, higher stress hormones, increased heart disease by 29%, stroke increases by 32%, and a 30% higher risk of dying within a 7 year window.

We know that social isolation is bad for us, and no altered facts can change this phenomena.  To this end, a civil and compassionate society must not just realize these facts, but to do something about it.  Social isolation is worse than smoking and it is time for some national actions designed to address this public health risk.