Learning from Our Journey

The faith tradition in which my wife and I participate observed the Epiphany this week; it is celebrated in different ways around the world, but a common thread is reference to the impact of a journey.  Think of the places you have been or seen in your life – the travels you embarked upon, the paths you have chosen, the people you’ve met along the way – and you can’t help but recognize that our journey shapes who we are.  Our travels have formed us; they change us, just as the way that we interact with our fellow travelers has an impact on them.

A journey by definition propels us forward. We can return to the places we’ve been, we can revisit familiar people – but we cannot turn backward, in time or in practice.  Change is imminent; as I have written several times over the last few months, the policies that shape the landscape of services and supports for people with disabilities in this country are transforming as dramatically as has occurred in a generation – right now.  The year ahead holds promise, as well as many risks – but like it or not, 2017 is going to be different.  Outside our industry, 2017 brings a new political administration and power dynamic, and a president working with a Congress controlled by his own party.  But just as a healthy democracy depends on citizens committed to the common good, irrespective of elections – our mission must focus clearly on positive and improving outcomes for the people we serve, irrespective of legislative and policy battles that we will surely face in 2017.  And this means not just working to promote those outcomes, but identifying the areas where effective services leading to a higher level of quality and continuous improvement are being ignored or even undermined.  This is not always going to be comfortable, but our openness to change will lead us in the direction that promotes the optimal levels of independence and inclusion that we all seek.

One of the lessons you learn from traveling is that the world is wide, and we are just a small, insignificant part of it.  And one of the things you learn from fellow travelers is our role and our impact is on quite another scale – the way that we treat people matters, perhaps more than anything else.  With a clear focus on the power that we have to lift up others, to enhance quality of life for persons served – the impact that we have on those we encounter – this will guide the formation or our policy goals and legislative agenda.  There will be difficult, challenging conversations – and I am hopeful these can occur in the framework of respectful, authentic dialogue, inclusive of those with differing points of view.  Change is embraced in our youth – we can’t wait for things to be different – but as we age, and grow more comfortable, we sometimes seek to simply maintain, rather than progress.  2017 will be a year full of opportunities to step out of this comfort zone, and build the kind of new framework of services and supports that reflect the level of impact of which we are all capable.

We hit the ground running in the New Year, so the time for resolutions has come and gone; but I will make a commitment to myself with every occasion that I face as a traveler in 2017 – a question I should ask myself with each encounter: “Why did you come this way, and what gift did you bring?”

Best wishes for a healthy and productive 2017 – I look forward to the work ahead.