Welcome to week four of ‘Top Talks’ – a segment where I do a show-and-tell of my favourite speeches, talks or lectures.
I am a strong believer in continuous improvement – which to me, means finding and listening to people who have an array of different values, beliefs and ideas, and sharing them with others!
WHO IS AIMEE MULLINS?
Believe it or not, Aimee Mullins is a double-amputee. But don’t let that doubt her ability. She is a record-breaker at the Paralympics (1996), prosthetic advocate, model, actor and an all-round successful business woman.
Mullins was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2017 and given an honorary degree at Northeastern University, Boston.
What I got out of this ‘Top Talk’:
This ‘Top Talk’ was part of a training session I took recently on disability awareness. It shines light on a variety of different issues, including the language we use to define the people around us who live with a disability and the power of adaptability.
LANGUAGE IS POWERFUL
We all know language is a powerful tool that most of us use to communicate.
We start to learn it from the moment we are born, and our lives are often defined by the way words can describe us: tall, smart, athletic, empathetic, strong…
But the language we use can also dis-empower us, just as much.
Aimee Mullins proves this point in her TED Talk, by reading out the dictionary definition of ‘disabled’:
‘Disabled, adjective: crippled, helpless, useless, wrecked, stalled maimed, wounded, mangled, lame, mutilated, run-down, worn-out, weakened, impotent, castrated, paralyzed, handicapped, senile, decrepit, laid-up, done-up, done-for, done-in, cracked-up, counted-out... see also: hurt, useless, and weak. Antonyms: healthy, strong, capable.‘
Now I don’t know about you, but the dictionary’s definition of disabled does not accurately describe any of the people I know that live with a disability. And why are the antonyms healthy, strong and capable?
People with a disability are not automatically unhealthy, weak or incapable.
As Mullins points out in her talk, it’s not about the words themselves, but what people believe when we name them with these words. By naming people by these words, we are putting them in a box, ignoring their potential and casting shadows on their dreams.
As a community, a worker, a friend, a family member or as an individual, it is important that we use words that empower the people around us, rather than dis-empower them.
ADAPTABILITY KNOWS NO LIMITS
The other important message I got from Aimee Mullins’s talk was the importance and significance of adaptability.
Mullins quotes Charles Darwin on the topic:
‘It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor is it the most intelligent that survives: it is the one that is most adaptable to change.’
And he is quite right – and it is a great way to look at the idea of adversity as rather a chance to adapt to our surroundings – whether it is physical adversity or emotional, mental or social adversity.
This idea really helped me see things from a different perspective. You don’t have to have a disability to be able to understand (and perhaps find comfort in) the idea of being or feeling different. Struggle is a part of human development. Adversity isn’t the end of the line. It is just the beginning.
Mullins puts it this way:
‘… the human ability to survive and flourish is driven by the struggle of the human spirit through conflict into transformation.’
Being able to adapt to our situations is an incredibly important part of every day life. Aimee Mullins has of course had more than her fair share of adversity, but instead of seeing it as adversity, she sees it as an opportunity. We can all recognize and appreciate times in our lives when we have been through dark times and come out stronger on the other end.
The only true disability is a crushed spirit.AIMEE MULLINS