PLAN Institute

An Idea for Justice for you and you and you….

August 28th, 2012

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the barriers to people with disability or infirmity to pursue their aspirations and achieve their potential with the support they need and the dignity they deserve.  Is my son more than the embodiment of his physical disabilities?  Does my mother represent something other than an elderly woman afflicted with the outcomes of extreme old age?  How should society see Nicholas, my son if not as ‘disabled’?  I believe that one of the principal reasons that we as caregivers and our relatives with care needs do not often get a fair deal in society is that policymakers, nurses, doctors,  employers and other community members often pidgeon-hole us as inconvenient, expensive and dominated by concerns related to care.  Amartya Sen, the nobel prize-winning economist writes on the subjects of extreme poverty, justice, equality and peaceful societies.  What have these subjects of international affairs to do with me as a caregiver or my family members who require my help in their daily lives?  

One of Sen’s ideas has to do with the way in which policymakers tend to think of people as having just one identity that trumps all others.  Someone is either is Muslim, or female, or Jewish, or homeless, or disabled.  But Sen asserts that we are all much, much more than just one thing.  Here, he explains:

A solitarist (or single identity) approach is, in general, a very efficient way of misunderstanding nearly everyone in the world. In our normal lives, we see ourselves as members of a variety of groups – we belong to all of them. The same person can be, without any contradiction, a Norwegian citizen, of Asian origin, with Bangladeshi ancestry, a Muslim, a socialist, a woman, a vegetarian, a jazz musician, a doctor, a poet, a feminist, a heterosexual, a believer in gay and lesbian rights, and one who believes that many of the most important problems that Norway faces today could be resolved if Norwegians could be made to take an interest in the game of cricket. Each of these identities can be of significance to the person, depending on the problem at hand and the context of choice, and the priorities between them could be influenced by her own values as well as by social pressures. There is no reason to think that whatever civilizational identity a person has – religious, communal, regional, national or global – must invariably dominate over every other relation or affiliation he or she may have.
From: Violence, Identity and Poverty
Amartya Sen Journal of Peace Research 2008; 45; 5 (http://jpr.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/45/1/5)

So, what does this mean for our community?  For me, it means that I am not just a caregiver – I am a mother, a daughter, an actor, an author, a social justice activist, a blogger, a sister, a Canadian and a theatre lover.  My son Nicholas is a blogger, an ice hockey fanatic, a friend, a son, a brother, a Liverpool football club supporter, a Canadian, an internationalist and is a recipient of complex nursing care.  My mother is an Anglophone Quebecer, a lover of Kennebunkport in Maine, a keeper of memories in our family, a party-girl, a mother, a feminist and a reluctant senior citizen.  Let’s push this envelope a little further now.  My friend’s father who suffers from dementia (despite his memory loss) is STILL a father, a husband, a joker – he is a former football player and a former school principal.  His loving family keeps all the ‘former’ roles alive and celebrates the roles that dominate today.  Another friend who is a wheelchair user could benefit from Sen’s multiple identity idea because with the benefit of this concept, she is not simply ‘disabled’, she is an engineer with a strong interest in women and leadership.

Now, there’s a concept. What are your multiple identities?
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