The Silent Killer of All Hopes and Dreams

by Kenneth Rayman on February 25, 2019
Seeing videos on the internet about people with disabilities achieving milestones fills me with pride and empathy. I live vicariously thorough them at that moment because I can imagine the elation and feeling of personal achievement. I think of all the times I’ve seen these feel good videos on television or social media and I’m proud of how far we’ve come as a society. I think back to my childhood, though, when that wasn’t so well documented and knowledge was lacking, and cringe.

I’ve talked many times about how the environment I grew up in wasn’t conducive to goal setting because of lack of hope given by the 3rd party of doctors, mentioning Tom Bilyeu’s line from a keynote that my parents couldn’t see the “path to becoming” clearly for me, in that sense, and they wanted to make certain that I was safe in each of their roles: Dad as the bread winner and Mom as the caregiver. They wanted to make sure I had every opportunity to make something of myself but when I struggled or showed no interest in a specific path, their method of motivation was not the greatest.

Though it was a product of 3rd party indifference, lack of information, and my parents’ self image within their roles, the method itself, I’ve seldom seen outside of my experience. Rather than talking about my disability as a facet of my character, it was made a part of my personality. My disability was noticeably different compared to others I saw in physical therapy, but any struggles were because I “wasn’t trying hard enough,” even though I was exhausted from trying. The worst, however, was it was often blamed on a third party persona they created, Righty and Lefty. I was suddenly split into three people, however two were inanimate. My childhood saw me get increasingly frustrated at hearing, “Righty isn’t letting Lefty do any work,” “Make sure Lefty gets in there,” or “Where’s Lefty?” I would grow up to also despise the word, “negative” because it was also the word of choice when I visibly showed my frustration with the lack of self-determination I was allowed to do or blame was levied on me unfairly. This led to my giving up on taking direction of my life, expecting life to happen to me, and it lasted well into early adulthood.

Now, am I blaming my parents for this? It may sound like it but as I said, it was a combination of factors that influenced their interpretation of my situation. But that frustration also extends to other facets of life in the same vein, and I had an epiphany recently. A friend of mine shared a video of a man named Woody Belfort where, three seconds in, Woody flips a somersault in his wheelchair and then climbs a wall using pegs. Cerebral Palsy is mentioned 13 seconds in, as it details his bodybuilding journey, looking as if the condition doesn’t define him. We all have those naysayers, who say we can’t do it, but what was said to him to get him to where he is today? What was said to Woody so that his dreams, interests, and passions didn’t wither and fade, but blossom? What words were used to inspire him to live his dreams and continue when it got hard?

The words to me were, “Look at what you could do for other disabled people!” I always wanted to respond, “What makes you automatically think that’s my ambition?!?” because I never bought into disability as a label verbally. However, any difficulty physically rendered that thought void because with no true encouragement, I saw only insurmountable problems, adjusting initially, then complaining as the problem continued, and gave up eventually. What you may think is positive re-enforcement can be misinterpreted badly if motivation is misguided.

What spawned this article was a recent conversation with someone who said, “Look what you could do for…” without it having any context to the issue, problem, or solution. I immediately snapped back, feeling the anger of old boil within. I caught myself, however, and then my friend shared Woody’s video. It reminded me of other CP-related videos that I’d seen recently, such as a man deadlifting 200lbs, Nike signing a track runner as their first disabled pro sponsorship, and of growing up watching all the Tom Rinaldi special features on ESPN. Did all of them get told, “Look what you could do for..” or was it, “What is your dream?”

The person is well aware of their limitations but chooses to look past them because they don’t see them as defining, instead viewing them as a facet of character, if at all. When words like, “Look what you could do for..” are used it diminishes, as it says the disability is bigger than the person, thus negating their own goals for a vague notion of “achievement.” Sean Stephenson once talked about his parents asking what he was good at and what he liked to do, saying next, “now go be the best at it.” What defined the questions was passion, not his condition.

When I saw Sean at Best Year Ever Blueprint, he said, “You chose your body for a reason,” using himself as an example, “If I was in another body you couldn’t hear me,” but his message wasn’t one of disability or disability empowerment, AT ALL! It was about his passion of empowering others. Going through his speeches and listening to his book, “Get Off Your But,” his condition is a footnote, not the subject. He famously says in his TED Talk, “You are not your condition. You are not.. I AM NOT DISABLED! Sure I’ll take the handicap parking privileges, but that does not define me as a man…” I’m sure Woody, myself, and the others can agree with Sean, too, as he tells his naysayers, “the only disability is one’s refusal to adapt.”

What the videos do is empower our own self worth in believing we can achieve what WE want. We don’t work to lift weights, run track, speak, write, etc. to achieve someone else’s goal. We don’t do all those things to give the condition a big middle finger. We do them for ourselves and, if we desire, share a message; because, it isn’t about overcoming anything, it’s solely just about achieving a dream.