Author Archives: jackjr158

Join Us as We Learn About Social Circles and Networks

A Circle — It’s Simple, Really

Loving, caring relationships are the key to a good life. A person’s well-being is intertwined with the relationships he or she creates. Most of us cannot imagine a life without someone with whom to share our closest thoughts, dreams, and fears. Yet the truth is that many people—including many with disabilities—are often lonely, and the most significant disabling condition they face is their isolation.

Adapted from “Weaving the Ties that Bind”

PLAN Institute for Caring Citizenship

Loneliness is the only real disability.

David Pitonyak

Most of us know that isolation is both uncomfortable and dangerous. Bad things are more likely to happen to someone who’s disconnected from other people. And, anyway, most people long for community—for the richness of connection with others. Most of the stories we tell each other and most of the celebrations in which we take part are about the vibrancy of our relationships with other people.

So, we need to act against the isolation that people with disabilities experience. We need to invest our whole selves in building lives-of-connection with and for them. We need to do this on purpose.

Luckily, others have taught us about a simple and familiar image that helps us try to build relationship-networks for others. That image is the CIRCLE. Circles join things together. They include. All right, they can exclude too, but we’re not going to use them that way.

When we build a circle for someone who’s been isolated or who hasn’t had enough connections in his or her life, we do four related things:

1. We try to get to know the person as well as we can—what interests or excites this person? What makes or might make life rich for her? Who is already likely to have some sort of connection with him?

2. We look in communities for places and, more important, people whose excitements and interests match those of the person with whom we’re circle-building.

3. We ask. We invite others to join in the effort to bring the person out of isolation—to make her or his own space with the rest of us. We do this intentionally, consciously. The experience of others is that many people say “Yes” to this kind of invitation.

4. We work to keep circles (also called “social networks”) active and sustained over time.

A few Southwest Ohio citizens have joined together to learn more about how social networks/circles can be created, to spread the word about how important such circles are, and perhaps to create a way for circle-building to become a part of our communities’ lives. We’re arranging for Al Etmanski, a founder of PLAN (Planned LIfetime Advocacy Network) of British Columbia, to spend a few days in Butler and Hamilton Counties, November 12, 13, 1nd 14, 2008. Please save these dates for good listening and conversation about how to relieve isolation and loneliness.

Jack Pealer

People Have Names

A few months ago I wrote a “letter to the editor” to the New York Times. Not surprisingly, it was not published (the Times must get thousands of letters each day). So, I thought I’d post it here. The piece I responded to was about the process of replacing numbers with people’s names on grave markers in an institutional cemetery.

Peter Applebome applauds the replacement of numbers on grave-markers at Letchworth Village with the names of people buried there. (“Giving Names to Souls Forgotten No Longer,” December 13, 2007) An error begs to be set right. The article portrays institutional living for people with disabilities as “a long-gone world,” as “a world designed to be as distant as the stars.” The era of institutions is still with us. Institutions are smaller now. Maybe some of them are cleaner. Likely they are more hidden from us because they are or look like nursing homes. In them the barren way of living usual at Letchworth Village continues–in New York, in Ohio where I live, and in other US communities.

When we honor the names and lives of those whose graves have earlier borne only numbers, let’s not forget people in institutions now whose lives remain unknown to their fellow citizens.

Jack Pealer

Quite a week

On Monday night Renate and I listened to Jonathan Mooney, at the College of Mount St. Joseph, as he analyzed and often skewered institutions–especially schools–for their adherence to the “tyranny of normalcy.”  On Wednesday we went to Cincinnati’s Mercantile Library to hear Anne Burleigh deliver the “Founders’ Day” lecture on “Wendell Berry and Membership.”  Mooney drew a picture, from his own experience, of a student with disabilities being searched out by schools and then singled out, day after day, year after year, with the clear intention of spinning that student right out of “normal” society.  He concluded with an appeal that we recognize “disability” as part of the human fabric, part of the diverse community. 

Wendell Berry doesn’t write much about “disability,” but he does hope for (as he brings to life in narrative and dialogue) a community where everybody belongs… a locality where the members of that local community are bound together by mutual knowledge, interests, and faithfulness to each other and to the land.  Anne Burleigh said that what Berry portrays is a “little commonwealth,” a good place where everyone’s vitality is of concern to every member.  And, if every member is included, then “normalcy” no longer matters.  If all (diverse) members are important to each other… well, I suppose that Jonathan Mooney and Wendell Berry are speaking and writing toward similar hopes.

It’s been quite a week.

Jack Pealer