Transforming the Conversation


Peter Block, writes on Werner Erhard’s view on the power of language in his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging:

“Werner understands the primal creative nature of language… asserting that all transformation is linguistic. He believes that a shift in speaking and listening is the essence of transformation. If we have any desire to create an alternative future, it is only going to happen through a shift in our language. If we want a change in culture, for example, the work is to change the conversation–or, more precisely, to have a conversation that we have not had before, one that has the power to create something new in the world. This insight forces us to question the value of our stories, the positions we take, our love of the past, and our way of being in the world.”

Sometimes when navigating the human service system, I feel like I’m playing a tug-of-war game with my child’s future. Even the best intentioned service provider cannot give my children the things that truly make for a meaningful life.

Yet I continue to have conversations that dwell on my children’s deficits and their lack, providing whatever fodder and documentation is necessary to procure services that are supposed to help and support.

To be a recipient of services is to be a client, or consumer. Services are provided at a cost, and the client is a commodity. When money is involved there will always be a drive to provide services in a cost effective manner. The mantra becomes, “How can we reduce costs and improve care?” The reality is that care cannot be provided at a cost, because you can’t buy care.

As a parent, I often feel a disconnect between who my children actually are and the paper representation that floats from desk to desk in the world of human services. The one-dimensional client feels very divorced from the many roles my children occupy of son, brother, friend, neighbor, volunteer, artist, and so on. All people, regardless of disability, exist in the greater context of family, community and culture, yet these other attributes are oft ignored in the provision of services.

All the work that has been accomplished in the realm of developmental disabilities in the past 40+ years has shown that there are many ways for people to have meaningful lives, be supported in their communities, build relationships, and obtain a good life. The tools, data, and stories are available; it’s not a mystery and it’s not particularly hard. Yet we struggle.

Maybe it’s time for a new conversation.




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