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Mirrors to Ourselves

Author: Anna Eliatamby

Glenys Parry once said to me, ‘We work with people who are mirrors to ourselves?’ That statement has stayed with me for a long time; now and again I think about it in relation to why I moved into this field.

I began life in learning disabilities as a volunteer at a local MENCAP daycentre in Plymouth. I had an immediate affinity with the people who attended. Why? Perhaps because I felt as out of place as they were. Being Asian, I sometimes felt I didn’t fit in with the community in which I lived and worked. I also experienced discrimination. And, on reflection, perhaps I needed a group of people over whom I could feel powerful.

Over the years, as I became more comfortable with myself and more assertive, I began to realize the power that was bestowed upon me in my many jobs in this field. I do have to question though why I didn’t do more to let go of this power so that people themselves really and truly ran services and had control over their lives. I would talk and listen but sometimes I did not include as much as I could have. I didn’t argue or advocate enough.

I have many memories of the wonderful people I worked for and who taught me about staying resilient despite their controlled living circumstances. Their pride and spirit, especially those with challenges, have taken them through the most awful of circumstances. These individuals often kept their character and spirit regardless of the, sometimes, poor quality services they received. Why haven’t we honoured the people with reactional (challenging) behaviours simply for their resilience rather than creating interventions essentially to cure them of their inappropriate behaviours?

Perhaps we keep people with challenges in our services because we need their existence more than they need their challenges. Are they the emotional temperature gauges of our services? Sometimes.

What if we recognize and acknowledge why we work with people and learn to let go of our own issues so that we can truly partner and work with people to fulfill their own dreams rather than our interpretation of them?

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the weakest one of all?
The person who lets herself get in the way of other people’s futures?

What if we worked from a centre of kindness and thoughtfulness and a real desire for equality rather than tokenism? Wouldn’t we achieve much more with and for people with differences? Try some of the questions in True Citizenship – a book that allows you to explore your contribution to citizenship.

The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Mirrors To Ourselves © Anna Eliatamby 2013.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.