I’ve spent most of my adult life in various disability advocacy circles with a wide range of disabilities at their focus and I’m beginning to see a pattern. Many groups focus very hard on spreading awareness and giving out information so that a certain level of knowledge is obtained. While their efforts were great and much needed, something was lacking. While these groups operated under the umbrella of awareness, what they really sought was a societal change. They visioned a society where people with disabilities were given the same chances as everyone else and not looked at as “different”. Where I’ve seen many groups fall short is their inability to move beyond awareness. Enter in the cycle of change:
Most social issues fall somewhere on this model. The groups I mentioned above were stuck somewhere between contemplation and preparation, unable to move towards action. Some even to venture into modified behavior with a short span of maintainability until they relapse back to where they were. Regardless of where they fall on this model, the end goal of change was not achieved.
My question now, and the purpose of this post, is how do we move out of awareness towards change? We live in an age of technology so I would argue that lack of knowledge is not the problem. I truly believe there are more caring people than not caring people around us, so a willingness to do the right thing is there. Where I believe the disconnect lies is our inability to branch outside our social circles.
In 2017, Penn state released an article in which they dove into the findings of a social psychologist, Robin Dunbar. Dunbar stated that human beings have the capacity to create and maintain roughly 150 close friendships even though they may have had thousands of casual connections through people on social media. I would argue that in our current society that number is much lower than 150, which therein lies the barrier hindering change. We’ve seemingly lost the ability to connect with those around us, which is crucial in understanding someone’s situation which then would hopefully develop empathy which would push us towards change. I can’t give a number to the amount of people who approach me and say something like “I don’t know how to phrase this” or “I don’t want to offend you” after which I coerce them to be honest and upfront. This honesty has led to some great conversations and a different level of understanding which I have seen change peoples attitudes and actions towards myself and people like me. This is where true change can be found. Are we willing to really open our social circles to those who need us and be willing to empathize with some people who are in situations we may have never been in? I would argue things will not change until we are able to empathize with those around us.
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:5-8