Although we have many differences, there is one quality we all share22 Sep 2016
"Although we have many differences, there is one quality we all share, one thing we all have in common, human spirit."
Lance Corporal Rory Mackenzie, 2012 Paralympics
As the 2016 Paralympics take place we will once again be inspired by people who society very often ignores. The Paralympics have, since 2012, changed many people's viewpoints of what those people with disabilities can achieve yet still many are marginalised either because they do not fit into the mainstream or because people are embarrassed by their difference.
The Paralympics, as with all sports, creates a sense of community and inclusiveness, breaking down those barriers by sharing a common cause. This really struck me when I was talking the other day to our friend Alan.
Alan is normally quite quiet in company but we started to talk about his love of sprinting - not your runner who aspires to marathons or pounding the streets but 100 metre sprints that he took up some years ago when he gave up smoking. What is it he loves about the sport? Of course the fact that at 60+ he is actually very good at it, but the way he becomes animated about the running club and how he can work with younger kids, oversee the over 60s group, go with the club to championships showed something else.
It is the sense of community and belonging to a group with a shared interest that really pushes all the right buttons for him.
For any of us to feel part of a community we need to share something more than either membership or a postcode. A community only works if we share the same values and interests. And, what was clear from talking to Alan, there also needs to be a real feeling that we have something to offer, and that others in the community have something to give.
It is not enough to just be a recipient of what a community can offer - I know this only too well from spending time in hospital, for example, where being a passive recipient can be demoralising as well as adding to a lack of self worth. For those who think that attending a day centre or living in a care home will be enough to bring people into a community, they need to think deeper. How will this involvement help that person's sense of identity? How can the activity serve purpose and a sense of achievement, however small?
Alan will never be Usain Bolt but he will continue to be seen by those of us who know him as a 'runner' to be admired, and by his co-runners as an important member of their community. All of us have the right to be seen as both individuals and valuable community members. The key is to find the community that really helps consolidate our identity and encourages us to play active roles in that community.