Can you smell it? I can. My years of studying attitudes has inspired me and infuriated me at almost exactly the same time. I have been provided with some of the most extraordinary “Attitudes” that literally altered my truth. My parents, Hilda and Jack Law. Certain teachers. My wife and business partner, Darlene. I’m sure I’m not unique. I’m also sure that for every opinion I observe, people will also either be inspired or infuriated. Social media itself is a “perfect” example. It is a vehicle that has turbo-charged “opinions” and again, either brings people together or tears them apart. Nothing profound in that observation. But here is what occurred to me today.
Apparently, and according to the CTV program, “The Social”, a public elementary school in Toronto had decided to ban all Halloween Costumes in their school during this “season” and specifically, today, which as I am writing this, is October 31, which last I checked, we can still call “Halloween”. Who knows how long that will be allowed? I confess, I haven’t actually confirmed this breaking news but I can’t imagine a TV show like The Social would make this up. And frankly, I’m not even a litttle bit surprised. Ten years ago, different emotion. But ten years of social media had changed our society, and in this case, it stinks! Can you smell it?
The logic on the school’s part is: “Better to make sure nobody is dressed up rather than making students who don’t have a costume feel excluded”! There it is in black and white (I’m still allowed to say that, right?). The notion of “Inclusion” is one I support 100%. I speak about in most of my talks and have been living it for over fifty years. But how about this idea? To assure nobody gets left out, nobody gets left in! You are penalizing an entire school population for a huge minority and as noble as the gesture, let’s consider what it actually means.
I am going to get very personal now. I also need to acknowledge 2017 is not 1966; the year I started school. I was the first armless child to enter the public school system in Yorkton, Saskatchewan. “We’ve never done this before!”, said the school. “Neither have we!”, said my parents. But here is where the era may be the key. But perhaps even more vital, my attitude, even at six years old, allowed me to understand I couldn’t always do what all the kids with arms could, and I was okay with that. I can totally credit my parents. And make no mistake, this is about parenting!
On “The Social”, the four woman panel (that’s balanced) referenced “Parenting Experts” strongly believing that “Exclusion” in children leads to isolation, anxiety, depression and even suicide. Wow! Question; Which Experts? Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure they believe this and it’s probably credible. It’s also extremely hyped and that’s the new media…not just the social variety.
Honestly, I am extremely hesitant to open another Pandora’s Box but today, the red herring is Halloween and just around the corner will be the stinkiest topic…Christmas! I find this important to address not to jump on a bandwagon or stir the pot, but to ask all of you a vital question; “What is your deep, personal feeling about “Inclusion” or in this case, “Exclusion”? Here is mine.
Inclusion as an exercise or policy didn’t exists in that context when I was a kid so therefore, neither did Exclusion. But for argument sake, let’s acknowledge their 2017 meaning. Because it had never been done before, when I started school, I was only six years old so thank goodness, the school didn’t freak out. I didn’t need much “accommodation”. My desk was lower so I could use my feet. I had a canvass bag with a leather strap to carry my school stuff. By the way, nobody had book bags, backpacks or the like in those days, right? So it made me stick out, not “blend in”! And that’s kind of the point. I learned very early on that I had the bulk of the responsibility for “My Own Inclusion”!
That idea doesn’t go over very well these days. At least that’s what it feels like to me and why that isn’t me being “Old School” is vital to the discussion. “The Good Old Days” weren’t always that good. I remember it very well. There were so many things wrong in those days. I have a very dear friend who happens to be gay. He and I shared some fascinating stories of our time together in the 70’s in my beloved Yorkton, Saskatchewan while we attended a 50th Birthday Party for the Yorkton Regional High School. He lived in denial and guilt because of how homosexuality was frowned upon, even calling it a curse. Unfathomable Saudi Arabia kills people by stoning if they are proven to be LGBTQ! Really? What a ridiculous belief. But, if you are Saudi, I just offended you, didn’t I? Isn’t that bizarre? Okay, it sure seems bizarre to me! The point is, my pal wished he could have “come out” back then but he didn’t and he never blamed anybody. As he told me privately, “I just faked it because I didn’t want to be condemned by a ridiculous reality of the time”. Can you imagine if we banned heterosexual dating in high school so we don’t offend the LGBTQ? I know, sounds pretty ridiculous, huh?
Clearly, nobody should have to “fake it” to fit in these days but like my pal, we didn’t grow up now, we did then. For me, it came with some pain, and hurt and clearly, that may be the root of this story. Nobody wants their children, or I suppose for this school prohibiting Costumes, their students, to feel intentional pain. But I can speak personally to the idea that some pain is a good thing. I struggled having no arms, and not with my independence. My feet were very capable as hands and my parents were ridiculously honest about the cultural truth of being a “cripple”, as was the label back then. I know. I can just hear the critics. “See Alvin Law! We don’t call people Crippled anymore because humanity learned it was wrong!” Dead on. But this issue is not the same.
Right or wrong, my era taught me so much. The list is long but this one is a big item. Exclusion taught me to play the game of life so I could not only be included, but find my place to educate, enlighten and inspire the world to see me and my peers differently. I knew, for example, if I was going to have a career, I better choose one that fit my ability. I often joke that I could have been a dentist! Using my feet! “Open Wider”! Can you see how silly that is? But for too many people, they believe in the concept for real. “Inclusion means including everyone in everything , right?” No matter what!
Okay, as a moral quandary, I see the point. I even have a teacher talk called…”Everybody Counts” which is absolutely a moral standing and for me, a great teaching moment. But here’s where I may ruffle some feathers. “Everybody Counts But Everybody Is Not Equal!”
I was born without arms and that is a huge reality. I began my life with great odds against me and today, I’m a world class drummer, Hall of Fame Professional Speaker and Best Selling author. I “earned” every step. I opened doors for myself and hopefully propped them open for others to follow. I proved that Inclusion is not just the opposite of “Exclusion”. It’s a way of thinking.
How about this thought? Instead of banning costumes from the school in question, have a class by class project to make or acquire costumes for those who don’t have one or can’t afford it. Have the students themselves work together so nobody is left out. It teaches so much more than just banning the event. Teach new Canadians that it’s fine to bring your heritage to Canada but to be included, you have your part to play as well. I believe it’s incredibly empowering to use the feeling of Exclusion to teach yourself to fit, to be included. My parents made it abundantly clear that nobody owed me anything so in turn, I never, ever fell into “victim syndrome” so therefore, taught my peers how to include me. But most important of all…I learned I may not always fit in and that’s okay. My self esteem grew from understanding Exclusion instead of being offended by it!
I want to reiterate I’m not asking people to compromise their values but to open their minds to others and instead of “Lowering Our Collective Human Bar” as my website says, “Beyond Limits…Raising The Bar To Achieve The Impossible”! Oh and by the way, this is more than making “ourselves” better, it’s about making our world better!
HAPPY HALLOWEEN 🎃