I had breakfast the other day with my friend, Ted Cmarada at one of our classic Pittsburgh diners, Ritters. It is great to spend time with folks, and breakfast at Ritters is a haven for thinking and planning, not to mention the breakfasts. In my 45 years at CLASS I have hatched more ideas, projects, or actions at Ritters than anywhere else.
On this morning we were exploring the important topic of community engagement. We were looking at the challenge that often unfolds for folks who experience disabilities in the engagement process. I was reflecting on how difficult it was to keep my dad engaged, when his Parkinson's Disease caused him to tremor uncontrollably. How most of my dad's friends backed away from him, seemingly not because of his disability, but more from their discomfort.
This conversation caused both of us to think more about the role discomfort plays in the engagement process. It seems that it is someone's disability, the manifestations or realities they now experience, that may cause others to feel uncomfortable, and in this discomfort to either back away, or make excuses from the beginning. In a way, this is the critical variable (dealing with discomfort) in promoting inclusion and community engagement.
I know that none of us like to be in uncomfortable situations. Yet, to fully include people in the engagement process requires some level of discomfort. To this end, we wondered how far would the typical person go in reaching over the discomfort barrier to engage with someone who is different from them. In a micro/macro perspective it is difficult, I might even say impossible, to expect my dad to stop his tremors. So the engagement pressure falls on the other person to be able to get over their discomfort and reach out to my dad. This is truly a macro issue and challenge.
So, how far are you willing to go to include or welcome someone into your patterns of engagement? How might you deal with your discomfort, or push your perspective to another place? These seem to be the real questions of inclusion.