Changing the Words. Our Dangerous Idea for 2017

A talented special needs school administrator addressed a crowd of nervous grandparents.

“Your grandkids are potentially talented and it’s our job to bring that out. This school is a cocoon. They come in as caterpillars and emerge as butterflies ready to fly back into the world.”

“Potentially talented?” 

The grandparents leaned in. They heard the words Potential and Talented and had visions of their grandkids with wings to fly.

But words matter – a lot.

If you think kids have potential for talent rather than already talented (because talent is innate – right?) then everything you do shifts.

Let me be clear – this is a passionate administrator who works bravely and with dedication.

Words matter.

If a doctor tells a family their child’s brain may never develop past the infant stage, that whole family’s life could be dictated by that statement. But, if the same professional said “we don’t know if he can recognize you, we don’t know if he understands language. But he might.”

It’s not false hope – it’s acknowledging the humanity of the patient.

What’s the disconnect?

Dignity: A fundamental belief in the humanity of a differently-abled person.

Always Assume Intelligence. You risk nothing and you could be bestowing the most precious gift a human can give another human. The gift of Dignity.

We are often asked “Why horses?”

I’ve wrested with whether my fascination with all things equine, the fascination I was supposed to grow out of – I might be foisting on our families in hopes of a miracle.

I’m a skeptic. I pour over journals for evidence-based studies on why horses elicit positive outcomes. I often toss anecdotes aside and look for charts and graphs on things like behavior reduction, oxytocin production, reduced aggressiveness and more.

Here’s the thing, a horse never sees “potential talent” in anyone. She sees you for exactly who you are and she offers you the Dignity of that. The Dignity to be scared, to be dis-regulated, to be curious, kind, or excited. The Dignity to be you.

A horse can’t project a notion of who you should, might or can be.

As herd animals, their survival depends on the ability to size up anyone and understand your role. Biologically, they understand children are vital and they react with some measure of protective care or a gentle nudge demanding independence. It’s not anthropomorphizing – it’s survival.

The moment another being looks at you and sees you for exactly who you are is the moment you start to blossom.

How much would you pay for a therapist who could accurately assess you in 30 seconds or less?

What’s our crazy idea to change the world?

We change the words. We lead by example – putting Dignity first – because every one of us at some point needs support and all of us deserve community. With our feet pointed toward Dignity, we may stumble and sometimes, we will fail – but change must come.

Soon, the notion “Always Assume Intelligence” will be the norm – not the exception. Dignity for everyone won’t be remarkable. The lives of families change profoundly and opportunities for everyone to realize human potential will bloom.

Challenge the words. It’s how we move forward.

The Revolution of Kindness marches on.




3 thoughts on “Changing the Words. Our Dangerous Idea for 2017

  1. We worked with a therapist when our son was young who refused to put labels on him. He disn’t think they mattered. To him what mattered was our child and seeing him for who he was at any monent in time. His perspective still keeps me grounded.

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