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Stop Telling Misfits to Change Themselves

Charlotte Ashlock Posted by Charlotte Ashlock, Executive Editor, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

Charlotte Ashlock is a crazy idealist trying to make the world a better place! 

Stop Telling Misfits to Change Themselves

Wikimedia Commons

If a person doesn't fit into a community, (for whatever reason) who has the responsibility of changing- the person, or the community? For much of history, it's been on individuals to bend or break. Can't change? Too bad. Blind? Stay home. No legs? Guess that buildings with stairs are not for you!

Then in relatively recent history, the flow has reversed. It's now more and more on the community to change. Municipalities have installed walk lights which chirp at the blind people when they turn white. Businesses and transit centers are required by law to have ramps. The requirement used to be conformity. Now the duty is inclusiveness.

Physical disabilities have led the way, since it's so clearly impossible to grow eyes or legs you don't have, it makes the moral argument for inclusiveness more compelling. But mental disability and gender nonconformity are making strides as well. Schools accommodate test anxiety and multinational corporations write HR policies about trans people.

The question is, what's up next? What I'd like to see is a right to employment. Right now the attitude is, if you can't get a job, it's on you to change. You should get your mental illness under control, you should get that professional certification, you should change your language or dress or level up your shaky social skills. It's the individual's responsibility to change.

I'd like to invert that paradigm: It's the community's responsibility, to stop wasting that individual's potential. Workplaces need to adapt, to make use of people at all abilities, wellness levels, education levels, cultures.

Of all rights, the right to contribute is surely the most basic, even more basic than the right to public space (established by the "have wheelchair ramp" laws). However, the scarcity of jobs means even people who conform and play by all the rules, struggle to find a way to chip in to this great work of building human society.

Who is deserving, and who is undeserving? Who fits in and who doesn't? Who deserves to be included? We shouldn't even be asking these questions. Jesus said all men are brothers. How long is it going to take us to get the f**king memo?

Interacting with someone in pain can be painful. I understand the temptation to create circles, to build communities, that include only conforming, well-adjusted, advantage-having people. I'm definitely as guilty of this as anyone. But maybe if we accepted their uniqueness from the start, they wouldn't be in pain in the first place?!?! Okay?!?!?!