Over the years, the World Health Organization’s discussion around disability has changed from “impairment, disability, and handicap” to “impairment, activity, and participation.” In other words, the focus has shifted to that of function through activity and participation. This shift in perspective is important but not sufficient. Let me explain why.
This emphasis on function is at the core of human existence and life. We spend our lives engaged in purposeful “doing.” Things we must do and things we want to do. Our culture places a very high value on productivity and “doing.” But at what cost?
“I am worthless.” “I am useless.” “I am no longer productive.” These feelings are shared by many people whose function has been significantly limited by disease or injury. In our society, we over-emphasize “doing” at the expense of “being.” This indoctrination starts early in life. We often ask our children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Translation: “What do you want to do for a job?” As adults, when meeting someone for the first time, we often ask, “What do you do?” Translation: “What is your job?” When was the last time you heard a child or an adult answer this question by saying, “I want to be . . . or I am . . . a kind and honest person”.
We often confuse what we do for who we really are inside. We allow our value as a person to be determined by our achievements and accomplishments. What if we connect our personal worth and sense of self to our inner values and qualities of “being” rather than to our jobs and “doing”. How will that help each of us cope better with inevitable losses of function?
Losing your ability to work at a job or being productive around the house is devastating. It is understandably upsetting. Remember that making the mental shift from “doing” to “being” and appreciating the value of “being” is at the core of coping with significant disability and loss.