Monday, June 15, 2015

Diversity Muscles

This last week Matt has had some wonderfully positive play-encounters with children who were comfortable around him, and in contrast, let's call it a disconnected play-encounter, where the children were awkward and unsure how to engage with Matt. Now that I've worked through the emotional ache of seeing Matt not belonging, it got me thinking about how we, as parents, can best equip our kids to connect with children who are different to them.
We’ve all seen those inspiring and tear-jerking videos that do the rounds on social media. The one with the child who has a disability and is coming last in the race, but is running his heart out, and his courage and determination draws out fellow pupils to run alongside and cheer him on. (Seriously, watch it if you haven't) Something of this really connects with us, we are moved, it is just so emotional. Why?
Is it that we all fear being the outcast? Our society honours those who fit in with the latest trends, things and thinking. We know what society does to the outcast – the unenviable reward of loneliness and aloneness. In these videos we see children rebelling against this societal reward system and they choose to cheer for the one who is coming last, the one who is not deemed hot and happening by society’s standards.  
And something in us cheers them on.
Is it our longing that we too would be cheered on instead of judged when we are functioning at our weakest and worst; that we would be accepted when we let our masks down and show the world who we really are; that we would be embraced and belong because we are human, not because we fit a certain image?
Is it our longing that we would be like those young people who throw off the standards of society of what is cool and comfortable, choosing a different way of engaging?
And those of us who have kids of our own hope that our children will choose this way if they were ever in the situation...
That they would embrace rather than reject.
That they would walk with humility rather than superiority.
That their hearts would be open not closed to those who are different to them.
That they would delight in diversity and not fear it.
I have come to realise that this much-desired goal does not just happen. Just as our physical muscles need training and exercise to run fast and far, so our social muscles need training and exercise to feel comfortable to embrace those who are different to us.
It is not just going happen.

Telling our kids to be nice to all people is not enough. Telling our kids they must play with everyone is not enough. Just like telling a child that she must run fast in the race is not going to give her the ability to physically move her body at speed.
So what training is required to be able to delight in diversity? Here are a few ideas:
1. Placing our kids amongst those who are different to them. Actually doing it. Being in schools and churches and playgrounds where there are kids from different genders, abilities, races, ethnicities, class back grounds, religions, etc. You get the picture. How can they possibly strengthen those diversity muscles if all their friends are all the same as them?
2. Helping our kids make sense of this diversity thing. Chatting it through with our kids about what it is like playing with someone who is different. What is hard? What is interesting? What have they learnt? What is cool? What is scary? What new thing can we do at home?

3. Working out our family values that can build those diversity muscles. How about some of these values?
  • We cheer on each other for the unique way God’s designed us. It is never acceptable to belittle anyone for being different.
  • Mistakes are cool, cos we learn from them. So we don’t tease if someone fails.
  • Kindness, kindness, kindness.
  • Empathy – what do you think that person is feeling?
  • It’s fun that we are not all the same – you can like pasta and he can like fish fingers

4. But here’s the most crucial training exercise for our children, the one that the other training exercises all depend upon. It is the deal breaker.
It is this: that we, as parents, place ourselves in settings where we engage with diverse people; that we have friends who are different to us. We cannot authentically train our kids to buck the societal system that rewards sameness if we are succumbing to this system in our own lives. As with most life skills, our kids are going to learn more from us about how to delight in diversity by watching us as we do it. Even if we don’t get it right all the time, even if it is uncomfortable sometimes, even if it takes more energy than we feel we have, this is how they learn. I make it sound like diversity is drudgery, but the reality is that doing diverse friendships is actually more rewarding than it is hard work. How better to motivate our kids to step through their fear than seeing us shining with the joy of being free from the “safeness in sameness” mentality.

Delighting in diversity - what a meaningful gift to give our kids…
to live life free from fear of those different to them
to still be confident when they are not surrounded by others who are the same as them
to experience the joy, yes joy, of swimming upstream against society’s values of who has worth and who has none
to break the power of prejudice
and to be part of changing the world    

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Yesterday's mistakes are today's aha moments

"Yesterday's mistakes are today's aha moments"

This is something that Rose-Anne Reynolds, who heads up Inclusion at Matt's school, (and who blogs here), mentioned to me as we met last week to reflect on Matt's school experience. What she said resonated with me.

Yesterday's mistakes are today's aha moments...

what does this mean?

it means that you don't know the way

it means that you are comfortable with uncertainty

it means you are humble because you cannot be sure

it means you cannot dress yourself with arrogance and superiority because they just don't fit well

it means that you when you try something you are not assured of success

it means that you take a risk

it means you have to be ok with things not working out

it means that you might face failure

and when things haven't worked out then it means that you don't
fall apart
become discouraged
feel like a failure
give in to the fear
or give up

it means that when something hasn't worked...
you stop and look
and learn
and ask questions
and learn more
and dream again
and get creative
and then you try something else
knowing that this something else might not work,
but then again, it might

I am grateful to Matt's teachers who really do live out this belief and do not shy away from taking on the unknown. We have tried some things with Matt, and then have had to change part of it, and then tweek another part, and then start doing something new, and then change that, and then alter one part and and and... Last year Rose-Anne and I met at least once a month to do this. She met regularly with his facilitator and teacher. I chatted with the facilitator daily. I met with the teacher at least twice a term. It took time. It took effort. But it was worth it.

As a parent I found the beginning of the process frightening. Matt is so precious to me, I wanted to protect him from anything that might harm him. In some ways I saw him more vulnerable than other children. That if we didn't get it right the first time then we would somehow damage him or make his condition worse. It was hard for me to let Matt go into the unknown.

But I didn't have a choice - there were no guarantees. Fortunately Rose-Anne and her team modelled the freedom of not being scared for failures. This gave me courage.

I came to see that Matt is really not as fragile as I thought.
In fact he is rather resilient.
And I came to see he could show us the way too.
And so we have had many aha moments
And Matt, and I, and the school are all better for it.

Saturday, March 14, 2015


I love this picture of Matt participating in a his school's swimming gala at the end of last year. For me it symbolises inclusion. The question was never - should Matt participate in the gala? nor was it can Matt swim well enough to be included?

His inclusion was a given.

The question was what support does Matt require to participate?

And in this picture you can see what supports were put in place... a kick board, flotation ring, and a friendly pair of arms (just in case).

And Matt was BEAMING.

Especially at the end of his second race when all of his classmates and children from other classes were all chanting GO MATT! GO MATT!