vulnerability

Splain splaining

How do you know you are getting to that precarious edge of too old to be using phrases like ‘splaining’ and too young not to know what it means? Maybe it’s that feeling of intrigued annoyance, like you know its out there, but you just can’t bring yourself to get on the band wagon. Many people have heard of ‘mansplaining’ but aside from the patronising or condescending aspect of splaining that is about a sense of entitlement or authority to speak ‘the truth’ as others are clearly unable to comprehend things (such as women in the case of mansplaining) I wonder if there is more to it?

What got me wondering was looking at the comments related to the Pulse nightclub attack, and the recent shootings of African American Men, and a side dish of other splains related to rape, racial assimilation and body shaming. I do take breaks to watch cat videos and things without comments – yay for Netflix. But do splainers realise they are splaining? I was thinking about my own privilege, particularly my whiteness (purple-ness in winter) and this very move of awareness and acceptance is different to splainers, I recognise and acknowledge I have white privilege – and a whole bunch of other privileges at any one moment in time…although that youth one might have passed me by now. Power and entitlement to speak on behalf of others is a form of narcissim and that is like an ego shield.

But going to another perhaps more simple idea is that splaining is an example of fear of being wrong. And maybe with that an unwillingness to feel pain, vulnerability, grief and shame – the kind of emotions that enable seeing someone as yourself, regardless of time and space. like  Ego shield neutralisers.

Splainers are adept at avoiding vulnerability and feeling wrong. I like what Kathryn Schultz has to say about being wong, ‘it’s not being wrong that feels bad, it is realising you are wrong that feels bad’. We are also used to the idea of there being one objective reality that  is ‘The Truth’ and splaining is an attempt (I think) to manage uncertainty, to fiercely defend a reality that maintains being right, by ensuring any alternative is shut down before it is uttered – silencing the potential validity of that perspective, thought, idea or truth. I’ve been on the receiving end of a few good splainings and  I’ve got a bit of a recipe for splain repellant-retardent. I hope some of them are useful or at least adaptable to suit the needs of different situations.

So here are some of things that have worked for me:

Usually I try and listen, and ask genuine questions from a ‘not knowing’ stance. I fish for as much detail as I can. Staying curious and aloof, but not directly challenging. If I am thinking about challenging a splainer I try and find a way of enabling them to stay ‘right’ – I know it sounds counter intuitive, but holding open their perspective and keeping uncertainty in play can break down the ego shield enough for thinking to take place.  I also like to apply a good dose of exaggeration or taking things into another context – I’ve resorted to alien invasions as metaphors or taken the most basic of fears and reactions and kept them going to their limits. Exposing the rediculousness is a bit risky might not always work. One of my favourites at the moment is to call things ‘a conspiracy’ – respect, non-violence, consent, housing, income gap.

But I am all up for someone explaining Pokémon Go to me, any time coz I just don’t get it – no splain no gain.

 

 

Staying grounded on Earth Day

How do you celebrate Earth Day? My Facebook feed is a mix of dire warnings, and warm fuzzy hug a tree type messages. I guess what it comes down to is Earth Day is an attempt to pause and think. But what to think about? The catch for me is the meaning of The Earth how it is understood in terms of our relationship to everything else. Humans have a habit of seeing everything as serving our needs to survive. This anthropocentrism is most entrenched in our current global economic and political structures. So for me I am wondering about the constraints on our thinking and relating to the diversity of life. I’m curious about the other cultural and ancient views of harmony with life that have been forgotten or suppressed and who’s interests this has served.

Science is keenly invested in finding answers with climate change being a bit of a well-worn path of common concern. But as Cary Wolfe and Karen Barad note:

‘Notwithstanding the diversity of possible reasons, the stakes in managing and accounting for these conceptual configurations are significant, for how the fault line of discrimination between the human and the nonhuman/animal/environment is drawn also motivates the reasoning behind claims for which life forms deserve more equitable kinds of moral treatment.’

So my call is for the brave step into something ‘epistemic vulnerability’ (Jennifer Logue) when some forms of knowledge are seen as dangerous or threatening there can be a shutting down, she notes that:

‘By examining ignorance as a defense, the activity of its process becomes clear. We can see non-knowledge is consciously constructed, used to leverage authority, close down community, and exonerate the culpable in a range of different legal and cultural arenas. This ignorance is a series of carefully constructed forms of not knowing that are used to protect power.’

So I am putting my certainty aside about how to ‘save the planet’ to question my own assumptions and beliefs about what it needs saving from. I’ll also compost more just to be on the practical side.

Articles referred to:

Chiew, F. (2014). Posthuman Ethics with Cary Wolfe and Karen Barad: Animal Compassion as Trans-Species Entanglement. Theory, Culture & Society31(4), 51-69.

Logue, J. (2014). The Politics of Unknowing and the Virtues of Ignorance: Toward a Pedagogy of Epistemic Vulnerability. Philosophy of Education Archive, 53-62.

Schools skirting around issue of uniform

I’ve been waiting for the media to respond to the recent school uniform hysteria with Henderson High School’s unfortunate justification for the enforcement of knee length skirts. I was interested to read a response today and while it touched on some of the issues I was going to raise I became more interested in the comments from the public. It fell into a predictable pattern of ideas about sexual differences between males and females based on their physiological materiality, notions of responsibility and choice as a result of the inevitable outcomes of ‘natural’ male desire and the role of schools to police young bodies in order to mute or eliminate this contamination of learning environments. I have four challenges or provocation to put forward:

First a reality check – all teenager are sexual beings. Schools need to accept that cladding bodies in a uniform will not prevent young people seeing each other in these ways, they will be attracted to each other, and it won’t just be opposites attracting. Sexuality is always present, not at a particular year level, not when certain body parts develop, its part of being a human – even in accounting.

Second – schools emphasise sexual difference through clothing deemed appropriate for males and females. If schools are serious about de-sexualising young people as best they can they would all be in long pants or long skirts – or skirt like attire. There is also the issue of female bodies and breasts – will a school dare to say over a certain size they must be bound or that an over garment will be shapeless and baggy like a sheet. But we might not be able to stop there because people find lips, necks and hair sexual – so we might need to cover them as well (hang on – I have a familiar image entering my head).

Third (and perhaps my most provocative point) – of course teens are experimenting and taking risks sexually and experiencing desire with their bodies. Figuring out sexuality however doesn’t begin and end at high school. High school are places where lot of sexual beings exist, including adults – and some teachers are barely out of high school themselves. Schools and teacher training institute need to be more proactive in talking about the very real phenomenon of teacher-student attraction without fear of it dissolving into a moral panic. Our shame about sex and sexuality in general as well as the real power imbalances between adults and young people should be more open to discussion. However I fear we’d rather maintain the institutional paranoia around sex that maintains silence and gendered assumptions which make the teaching environment a vulnerable space particularly for male teachers who’s interactions and behaviour will always be under scrutiny for ‘inappropriate’ interactions.

Finally. Rape is a violation – a violation of respect and is often an act of extreme violence with traumatic outcomes for survivors. But we need to stop linking uncontrollable sexual desire in men and the sexual provocation of women to some predetermined natural outcome of sexual difference that rape is part of. It enables and maintains justification of date rape, sexual conquest a a right of passage and a ‘scoring’ of masculinity points. While sexual difference has largely focussed on male desire, female desire and sexuality has largely been ignored or misrepresented. Finding out more about how male and female bodies are similar in spite of the more obvious differences will not stop rape but might begin to open space for challenging the assumptions that support rape as a natural outcome of sexual difference.

It is time to stop skirting around the bigger questions and for educators to boldly step into a genuine critique of the purpose of uniforms and what ides schools hang onto in order to justify their continual gender normative policing.

 

 

Shoe in

It’s an oft used analogy to indicate perspective taking or developing empathy ‘to walk in someone else’s shoes’. I’ve been thinking more and more about why slipping into someone’s experience would be as simple or whether the familiarity of the idea is both why it works and fails miserably. Because I would go even further to say that excludes a wide range of people and other beings who either do not walk or don’t wear shoes.

So perhaps this way of helping short cut understanding has set up a rather unhelpful set of assumptions. We are all conceptually limited although at times we’d rather pretend to ‘know’ than deal with the uncomfortable realisation that we might just not ‘get it’. To ask the question ‘how do we know what we don’t know’ or ‘why did this form of knowing become accepted’ invites an alternative, agnotological approach to the shoe idea.

What got me thinking about this again was my experience of starting bare foot running, not exactly, but the ‘shoes’ I wear are simply a piece of rubber and some rope (the silver toe nail polish is optional but I reckon it makes me run better). Peoples responses were intriguing, no-one believed they were running shoes. The model of the shoe did not fit, a preconceived idea had already defined how my feet should be covered for the purposes of training. My shoes were wrong according to the dominant knowledge available from the various scientifically based truths about human physiology and biomechanics. Therefore the idea of trying to run in my shoes was so against popular knowledge my decision seemed incomprehensible, illogical and irrational. Judging from some of the condescending comments and Spock like eyebrow raises, I was deemed a little bit cray cray, a sort of ‘these aren’t the shoes you’re looking for’ Jedi mind trick was even tried.

It’s taken my body a while to adjust to a different style of running, but I love it. All the concern about what harm I might do running in a more natural way seem a little cray cray to me. Some lives are like my new running ‘shoes’. They are incomprehensible because of the ideas used to construct them. When people imagine wearing them they have already decided how it might feel, how painful and uncomfortable and awkward they’d be. It might not cross their mind that they could feel light, free, sensitive and liberating. I suspect people who identify as transgender or are seen as ‘disabled’ have their lives miss-imagined or only framed in pejorative ways.

But I think if we can become open to the idea that we might be wrong, to be curious and prepared to recognise the ways our own vulnerability shapes our perception, that is, to understand our own shoes, why they feel comfortable, where they fit best, what terrain they give traction on and where they become unstuck could be more useful. But again, from the outside our ideas simply reflect our own fears, doubts and insecurities and not necessarily the lived experience of others.

And as for seeing through the eyes of another? Well that is no mean feet.

International zombie day

Today is international happiness day (no link to my previous blog). Watch out for the smiling zombies. I’m cool with that, but if I fail to be demonstrating my happiness in ways that others approve of then I’ll probably be deemed aloof, surly, detached or depressed. Why does happiness get it’s own day? I don’t think that is fair on all the other emotions, the full spectrum that is. They are all part of a normal healthy balanced life. To be honest I find happy people scary, I get a little freaked out by what I call the ‘happiness evangelists’. It comes via their profound sense of happiness always being a choice and that positive thinking is the antidote for negative feelings. At the ‘evangelical’ end of the spectrum anyone who is suffering, feeling down, alone worried, sad, angry are promptly told to appreciate life, be grateful and turn that frown upside down.

For me, this disavowal of the full range of feelings and states of mind is like a psychic genocide, where we segregate people who do not comply with the stated acceptable ways of being in the world and do all we can to ensure they do not contaminate society. There are other ways to quarantine these people in society, we diagnose them with disorders, put them in support groups to talk to each other so they can fit back in when they are ready.

It’s not that I don’t want people to experience being happy, crikey it’s not a great look for a counsellor. What I worry about is how these special days of celebration fragment our understanding of life. Why not a day of sadness? That might be more productive and meaningful, to talk about the things that hurt, that are about the darker places people go and do not get permission to share. Opening the door to empathy is about being alongside people in their moment of pain. We need more of this from society rather than the sugar coated pill of positivity.

If you are celebrating today take a moment also to recognise that happiness can only be known in relation to it’s opposite and that our lives are richer when we are able to be more authentic with emotions. Perhaps a day of vulnerability?

Will have a beer later and think it over – that makes me happy.

Class Act

I remember a time when the message to young teachers about how to establish authority in the class boiled down to some simple instructions about remaining distant and aloof. Many of us will recall the doctrine of ‘no smiling before Easter’. While most new to the profession these days will be encouraged to develop more positive connections with students before Easter there is still some of this authoritarian hangover lurking for teachers who’s own default settings remain in the reactive negative affect range of basic emotional responses. In spite of having fully developed frontal lobes, yelling, humiliating, mocking and shaming young people is still a preferred tactic for some.

And I can speak from experience. When I started teaching I was still understanding my own reactive limbic system defaults and wish my teacher education had spent more time to help me work through how to become more aware of how my behaviour impacted on the learning and well-being of young people. I was a bit reckless at times – and had social media been around I’d probably have had a few hash tags of the not so salubrious kind.

Given as a nation we don’t have such great statistics with violence and abuse toward children it seems highly undesirable to have our learning institutions endorsing abuse tactics with so much understanding these days about the effects on developing brains. Yet as adults we tend to hide behind our privileged position as the ‘older species’ assuming this chronological difference entitles us to respect regardless of our own behaviour. Sometimes I wonder who really needs to grow up?

The artificial structures of respect and authority in 21st century schools that linger from post industrial revolution ideologies and practices taint modern learning environments. In a postmodern landscape with technology blurring the accessibility of personal boundaries growing, the very idea of calling teachers Mr or Miss is crazy if teachers profiles can be seen online.

Perhaps the best litmus test for a readiness to change is the openness to restorative practices as these really do challenge assumptions about power, authority and how to do respect. The most confronting aspect however is not so much in the kinds of conversations that are had but the need to acknowledge the recognition that we are all human beings in process. Developing empathy and caring is not done by the time you are 18. Every conversation changes a person therefore the quality of those conversations and interactions matter.

For those still unsure about the power of restorative practice watch Daniel Reisels TED talk. Emotions are there to connect with understanding and I think there is more to empathy than what happens in the brain. Genuine learning engages uncomfortable feelings of vulnerability. We need to ditch the idea of negating or ‘managing’ these emotions or seeing them as primitive and a mark of weakness. Thinking and being reason-able is over rated sometimes or at the very least over emphasised as a mark of maturity.

I hope we can start creating modern learning environments that expect smiling on the first day and compulsory facials by Easter due to face ache.

Doing the (in)decent thing

Ok, I need to make a disclaimer. This blog contains sexual content, and some really bad puns. However it may or may not be indecent depending on where you are reading this. ‘Where’ doesn’t necessarily mean what country or location. ‘Where’ is your moral and ethical values base located? So what to make of a case in the United Kingdom where a couple have been changed with an ‘indecent act’ during a concert at Hyde Park. I nearly required the heimlich maneuver while reading and eating toast – was not a great time to be masticating.

Briefly: A couple in their late 40’s had imbibed a lot of alcohol and while they guy ‘slept it off’ unconscious his partner decided the music sucked, so took that theme and ran with it so to speak. Apparently when finally interrupted by being arrested there was surprise from the woman that the rules were different in England. I’m wondering how many Welsh folk right now are checking with their local council to see if the grass has been cut recently so they can make grass angels. But this isn’t really what shocked me. What caught my attention was the response from the lawyer defender her in court. He believes even if it did happen it was a bit funny and “did not outrage public decency”. His summation and I quote (unfortunately).

“Let’s think actually there was sucking the penis, nobody is condoning it,”
“Of course it must have upset the sensibilities of some there, it must have caused annoyance”.

I don’t know about you but since when does ‘finding it a laugh’ become the yardstick for whether or not something crosses the line of decency? Because that is pretty much his argument. Here are some of the questions I have:

  • Had they been in their teens, how might their behaviour been perceived?
  • Why didn’t bystanders have concern for the level of consent of the guy involved (assuming there was no indication of a relationship)?
  • Is evidence of ‘arousal’ assumed to be an indication of consent?
  • Would a guy performing the same act on a woman receive the same level of permissive dismissive humour in court?
    If someone of the same gender was performing the act would they have been treated differently by observers and the court?
  • Is filming someone doing something, when in a state of impairment and possibly a vulnerable situation decent? Who should be being charged here?
  • Why is performing a similar act on yourself in public (I’m guessing with the hands rather than the mouth – but hey I suppose there are some who could pull it off) considered indecent, if someone performing on someone else isn’t??

I’m not sure what the outcome of this case will be but it is certainly an interesting situation to explore the complexity of the performing of sexuality in public and how context might permit certain interpretations of pleasure, power, desire and consent. Perhaps a look at the new guidelines for sexuality education from little old Aotearoa could be helpful here, maybe this couple could benefit from being sentenced to a few night classes…maybe not…certainly wouldn’t want them taking too many bathroom breaks.

I just hope whatever the outcome that no-one in that courtroom mouths ‘you’re going down’.

(Many puns were sacrificed in this blog).

Talk that needs to change frequency

It’s a bit of a conundrum turning the radio on in the morning with a young pair of ears in the car. There is the option of popping in a CD but sometimes it’s nice to let someone else do the music selection with a bit of banter, but some like to talk, ….and talk, and rant, and make sexual references. While this is happening I am desperately reaching for the off button and juggling hot coffee. Bracing for the questions and planning a response at that hour of the morning is mental gymnastics and my brain is barely warmed up and feels like it’s about to do the splits.

Some might say ‘well just don’t listen’ and I could agree to some extent that choosing to switch or change channel might be a good option. But it was also evident at the Weetbix Tryathlon where radio DJ’s host the pre and post event hyping there was a general disregard for the age of the audience that was largely children. What I’m not so sure about is why DJ’s feel so compelled these days to entertain via the use of humiliation and degradation? It’s a bit like what’s happened to MTV – yes Music Television… I don’t see a lot of music on there anymore, time for a rebrand I think. The strange thing about radio is you often don’t see it coming like with TV and the content can swing so suddenly as to catch you off guard – a psychic side swipe. But I also don’t want sanitised radio with no humour (gosh I’m sounding hard to please).

But here is the thing, if I like a particular style of music then there is an assumption made about my character or personality and perhaps DJ’s make generalisations and think up clever ways to embarrass people or shame them in the name of attracting more listeners and maybe that is the point. Radio has become a vehicle for adults to legitimately bully others with music thrown in for good measure from time to time. Commuters scrunched up in rush hour traffic want to vent, so DJ’s are encouraged in some ways go to lowest levels to distract listeners from the mundane and target the frustration elsewhere. Some stations and DJ combinations are worse than others and I have never had any issue with the concert programme funnily enough – just not a lot of nine inch nails or foo fighters, not even as covers (although you never know).

Just spin records guys and stop spinning s*&^
Ahhh just realised radio is all digital…
Only real DJ’s spin vinyl

Tipping The Balance

I am surrounded by amazing creative educators and interesting people talking about ‘modern learning environments’ and what this looks like. I suppose that is where I want to push and provoke some conversations, because we seem to be stuck with ‘look like’ a lot. The focus and emphasis keeps being drawn into changing the shapes of furniture, open learning and staff spaces and increasing use of technology. We rarely get to ‘sound like’ and ‘feel like’ possibly ‘smell like’ which happen to be important relational aspects of learning. One special interest area for me is the realm of discipline. So as usual I have taken to the metaphorical to share some observations, and yes bikes are involved.

If anyone has learned to ride a bike, or swim you might recall the sensations and emotions that come with vulnerability. There is a delicate relationship between being control and feeling the pang of fear. It’s excitement wrapped in caution. As adults we occasionally are asked to learn new things that push us beyond our comfort zone but it is usually by choice and rarely does it mean learning something that puts our professional identities on the line.

But watching the process of restorative practices enter schools has all hallmarks of skinned knees, struggling for breath and feeling ‘out of our depth’ as a profession. Teaching and schools have been moving along just nicely with traditional practices of discipline and punishment for over a century. It’s a machine that everyone recognises and we generally get the mechanics of how it all works.

Learning to Ride a bike is familiar to many people – bit wobbly at the start, usually held by someone to get going, but the freedom gained was well worth it. Once you’ve ridden one you can pretty much jump on any sort of bike, same principles, laws of physics, maybe the shift in gears could be unfamiliar and mountain and road bikes do operate differently. It can feel awkward but you can adjust pretty quickly. I liken this to schools and discipline policies in general, you can move between institutions which claim a ‘unique’ culture but once you are ‘on and pedaling – it rolls pretty much the same. If rules are broken punishment is dished out – we’ve been riding this punitive machine for a while.

Then along comes the restorative contraption. It is more like a unicycle. We don’t generally see unicycles around, they are for clowns and performers, no serious-rational-real person would consider them just as adequate as bikes. They might even say ‘we need unicycles like a fish needs a bike’. Nevertheless teachers are asked to give up their comfortable seat of power, drive chain of consequences and handle bars of truth for what? A one wheeled contraption with no training wheels? And here is the real spanner in the spokes, no amount of experience on a bike will help ride this thing. It is a starting again, a stripping back to a raw relationship with gravity and balance, shame and vulnerability matched with accountability. No amount of watching, reading, analysing will help you ride one. Just getting on requires patience and perseverance, falling off is required, it is the only way to make progress – yet it feels unnatural and letting go of the stability of the wall requires courage and an understanding that without losing balance you cannot move forward. Then finally you let go and try one pedal and it feels like a mile. You start to get a feel for how the unicycle moves with you and go with it, zig zagging all over. Every subtle turn and shift changes the direction, you can even pedal backwards. So it is about giving in to uncertainty with adrenaline surging and mixing this with cautious anticipation for the next attempt.

To those on the outside, it appears unsafe, reckless, even dangerous. They might wonder where is the control? The direction? How do they steer? It looks awkward and clunky and many will turn away and say ‘I’ll stick to the bike thanks – at least I know how that works.’ A small group will persevere and take the risk of leaving the safety and comfort of the wall of familiarity. A few pedal strokes is exhilarating enough to feel like you are getting it. But the next time in might be face in the floor time, it doesn’t mean going backwards, learning is non-linear and with every painful fall there is a sense of progress, the body senses more and more how to move with this strange new (e)motion. Encouragement, support, laughter and shared experience allow those who continue to maintain their momentum. The wobbles will lesson and the flow will come, falling gets easier and less painful, in fact, direction comes through careful adjustments, a growing awareness of what works for you.

There is no skipping a stage, there is no way to short cut…just get back on… hundreds and hundreds of times. Eventually getting going will be less of a struggle and momentum will come naturally. The effortlessness is illusory, it masks the commitment and dedication, change in physiology with a new and unique proprioceptive relationship to rolling friction. But those who have tried to ride will recognise and appreciate the visual confirmation that ‘it can be done’.

Because the usual mechanics of power and privilege that comes with Authoritarian discipline have been stripped back, the time to get going restoratively does mean many will need gentle introductions whilst others will be ready to throw themselves into it. Both are fine, but recognising the kinds of support people need is something schools need to pay particular attention to when introducing restorative processes. Developing effective restorative practices takes time to develop and they only get easier by doing them. If there ever was a place for repetition in learning it would be here and particularly the skill of asking questions. However it is helpful to find creative ways to ask the same thing otherwise you run the risk of wearing your ‘mental tire’ out on starting in the same place all the time. You can get around this by rotating the tire every few weeks on a unicycle, or to get some alternative starting points to conversations.

One of the things I remember from learning to unicycle was how tired I felt, how exposed and vulnerable I felt. Bruised in places I never thought I could be (or should be) including my ego, frustrated, exasperated at times but also quietly satisfied with each tentative meter gained. Even scrapes and bumps are celebrated and cherished.
I am by no means an expert on a unicycle but having watched and taught over one hundred people to ride one I understand it is a process that has as many demands mentally and emotionally as it does physically. Fear is one of the main reasons people ‘get off’ and return to what is safe. This will always be the case. The irony is – the very ‘gravity’ of the situation is what enables these kinds of conversations to take place.

Finally, surround yourself with others wanting to share the same experience, laugh a lot, console, apply ice packs, laugh more. Expect to fall off then just get back on…again and again and again…

No Giant Leaps – small steps will do

When we are born our bodies are immediately assessed. We get the gender test roughly translated as ‘is it a boy or a girl’ and the ‘fingers and toes’ test – physically ‘normal’. The normalising gaze hits our poor helpless bodies immediately. Bits and pieces aside we are all born unable to walk or talk – it’s part of being a baby so it is culturally accepted. But we are then expected to progress to walking. Developmentally seen as important, a milestone celebrated often with over exaggerated parental enthusiasm. Bi-pedal functioning is given high status for humans which is kind of ironic given ‘we’ in the developed world spend most of our modern lives seated these days.
We generally expect our bodies functioning to change gradually over time. We make jokes about it – prepare for it, even advertise products to help you cope with the inevitable loss of bladder functioning. But not all change is slow, in fact it can happen in the blink of an eye.

The shock and disbelief of seeing someone you know or love or have a connection with lying in a hospital bed, in a coma with the possibility that they may not wake up or use their body as they did before reaches into all dimensions of our being. Sadness, and overwhelming emotions are part of that which says something about the significance of our embodied lives that we usually take for granted.

When a young person suddenly loses limb functioning– particularly the abilty to walk – the need for a return to common functioning reflects the strong cultural production of the body. The shock wave of this sudden change packs more punch if that young person expresses themselves physically by mastering complex and skilled movement. More often than not young men engaged in sport or other high risk activities. Masculinity and physical mastery of movement are almost inseparable.

We build our identity around many things including our capabilities, so a sudden and significant alteration means adjusting to new found vulnerability, like going back to that infantile stage of life. When common functioning is lost there tends to be a lessening of value of that person in general because, in our world our bodies afford us access to a ‘meaning-full’ life. This meaning is of course culturally constructed but is centred around relationships – which involve, communication, intimacy and sexuality in particular, having children, a job and being economically productive.

I’m not a rehabiliation specialist of the physical sort but I do work with people who are confronted by emotional spiritual and psychological identity fragmentation when change happens. The urge to ‘get back to normal’ tends to dominate conversations. Those who ‘push through the pain’ are seen as courageous with determination. Positive mental attitudes or refusing to accept limitation is preferred over quiet reconciliation with could be a more permanent state of being. Celebration is reserved for those who recover fully or at least keep fighting. Brad Smeele is one of our most recent example of a young man in the pinnacle of a career that involves high level risk who eventually crashed becoming a quadriplegic. The media intend following his rehab progress and I suspect this horror voyeurism is about satisfying our own fears of loss of function – to be back to normal – physically capable once more.

To allow for vulnerability and dependence in a world that fiercely values independence and self sufficiency, is not about giving up hope but holding reasonable hope that acts to contain sometimes wild and exaggerated expectations for recovery. Michael Schumacher famous formula 1 driver suffered a ski accident and is ‘recovering’. However the reports of what ‘recovery’ and progress means are clearly different, again reflecting the tension between reasonable (informed) hope and sensational exaggeration in the name of optimisim causing some confusion and angst for fans and family.

Grief occurs when there is an experience of loss. It is a natural and healthy reaction to change. Sudden change disorients us and we reach for things to locate who and what we are – that everything will be OK. My sense is we need more conversations and explorations around the kinds of change events in life that can disrupt our sense of who we are so that WHEN – it happens our ability to read and recognise the terrain of distress will enable us to gently pick our way through the kinds of anchors of our identity that are present but require re-sighting with possibly a new unique outlook.

As Lillian Smith put it ‘our fear of the losses can keep us from changing…what is it…exactly we are afraid to lose’? and possibly, in the blink of an eye.