We are the rock and life is the stream – we can but resist with grace. On our optimistic days we may think of ourselves as the authors of our own lives. On our pessimistic days we may see ourselves as puppets, subject to the will of others. In truth – we can only be ourselves, true to the best in ourself – we may influence the flow of things, but we will never control it.
Recall the face of the poorest and the most helpless man whom you may have seen and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he be able to gain anything by it? Will it restore him to control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj or self-rule for the hungry and also spiritually starved millions of our countrymen? then you will find your doubts and yourself melting away.
Notice how Gandhi understands the importance of freedom or self-rule in his account of the experience of justice. Meeting the basic need is important, but meeting the need in a way that is absorbed into respect for the innate dignity and integrity of the other human being is central to a proper understanding of justice. Otherwise people become the mere means by which we fulfil our obligations – our real duty is to restore to people to their full role and to put people in a position to meet their own obligations.
We often want to do everything ourselves, but that is a mark of false pride. Even what we owe to others belongs to ourselves, and that is part of our own lives. And when we calculate just how much we owe to others, it is not only un-Christian, but useless. What we are in ourselves, and what we owe to others makes us a complete whole.
The idea of independence is good but is often confused.
We value learning skills and we can often advance our independence by learning something that we didn’t know before. But this is an inevitably finite goal. I cannot learn everything – just because I am finite and human. And if I did know everything what would that mean?
It is not a good thing to be a ‘know-it-all.’
It is essential to our humanity that we need other people. To learn from them. To get their assistance. Of course this is essential to ourselves – to our well-being. Without love and assistance from others our lives would be empty. But it is also important because our needs create opportunities for others to contribute – needs give meaning to all our lives.
It is not a good thing to be a ‘do-it-all.’
What we value is having control over our lives – freedom. Even this is not an unconstrained freedom. Freedom is an expression of self within the context of our community – it is a form of creativity which requires a medium for expression – things which we can control, but also things which are outside our control, but which provide the fabric of self-expression.
As Bonhoeffer observes the goal of independence, understood in a shallow way – me doing everything for myself – is not only false it is a sin. As Bonhoeffer also sees the sin is a failure to acknowledge that what we owe others is part of ourselves – and to deny the reality of this debt is a kind of ingratitude.
Understood in a deep way – me being myself, expressing who I am, with support from others is true and is how we become a “complete whole.” It is also a way of valuing each other, it is at the heart of mutual respect and community life.
In one institution they painted a zebra crossing on the floor of the recreation hall – in order to help people safely cross the road. Can you imagine anything more dangerous?
We often do this. We teach a skill but in the wrong environment where it has no meaning and where the real life consequences of using or not using the skill don’t exist.
Many good ideas come adrift because we do not give them the right foundations. The cart goes before the horse.
I remember a conversation I had with a keen advocate of person-centred planning who was part of In Control. She seemed to think that people and families couldn’t plan or make sensible decisions without first receiving support and training in person-centred planning. This seemed upside down to me.
For me I couldn’t see the sense of giving people support to plan unless you’d first given them control over their lives. And once you’ve given someone control they may or may not need help to plan. It is extremely presumptuous to assume that disabled people or families can’t make their own life decisions without the well intentioned involvement of an enlightened professional.
I still feel:
Give people control first. If people still need a bit of extra help to plan then lets figure out the best way to make that happen afterwards.
Not only is it patronising to plan with people and assume they can’t make decisions for themselves – it’s also dangerous. When people are not in control, and are persuaded that they must first play the planning game just to get the chance to be in control, then we swiftly corrupt the planning process:
- Planning turns into pleading, negotiating, advocating – but that’s not planning. It lacks integrity and creativity – it is done as part of the ‘game’.
- Professionals leap in as consultants, trainers, planners, facilitators and brokers. Instead of supporting capacity we create new professional roles and tasks.
- Planning is used to control people further. Support plans are checked, altered, approved or not approved.
Its always useful to ask: would we want this for ourselves? When in life do we plan? When in life do we stick to the plan? When in life do we have to share our plans with others?
The only thing that makes planning safe is staying in control – knowing it’s your own plan and if you change your mind you can throw the plan in the bin.
We see it, and to us it appears like principle, and the best sort of principle at that – the principle of allowing the people to do as they please with their own business.
This principle can be exploited and distorted so that some people get cut out and oppressed. So we can’t leave it at that – it is not the only principle a decent society must have. But it does seem a rather good principle not to forget.