Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Finding Your "X" Factor in Adversity

The only true disability is a crushed spirit.
~ Jaimee Mullins

Words matter. They describe us, tell us and others who we are.

If you are born without shin bones, with toes going in several directions, with the prognosis that you will never walk and will have your legs amputated before age 1 and, later, you look up the definition for disabled, that single word in your language can crush you.

Or not, if you are lucky. As Aimee Mullins is. "You need only one person," Mullins says, "to show you the epiphany of your own power. . . and you're off."

* * * * *

In a moving TEDMED talk given last fall, Aime Mullins describes her discovery upon opening a dictionary to the word disabled. Mullins — the youngest person ever to hold a top-secret security clearance at the Pentagon and the first woman with prostheses to compete in the NCAA on a nationally ranked Division I track team — found words that hardly met her own vision of who she is: words such as mutiliated and useless, crippled and helpless, wrecked and mangled, run-down, worn-out, lame.

"What reality do we want to call into existence," she asks on reading these words out loud, "a person who is limited or a person who is empowered?"

Runner, actor, activist, Mullins wasn't always empowered. It took a certain "Doctor P" to open her eyes to her sense of her self, her own power to be more than than the words society might use to define her beyond the facts in her medical records. And in full possession of her own "x" factor, the key to her vision of a self able to find "opportunities wrapped in the adversity" that marked her birth, Mullins speaks to all the reasons we must not accept or use words that define us as what we are not.

Drawing from her talk, which may be viewed below, I've pulled out and paraphrased some of Mullins's points, which I think are worth keeping in mind, no matter the difficulty before us.

❖ Adversity is just change we haven't adapted ourselves to yet.

❖ Adversity's not an obstacle to get around in order to resume our life. It is our life.

❖ We are changed and marked by our challenges.

❖ Our human ability to adapt is our greatest asset.

❖ When we stop seeing adversity as something to overcome and instead view it as something to open ourselves up to, we are less burdened by the presence of it.

❖ Conflict is the genesis of creation. The struggle of the human spirit is to drive through conflict to transformation.

❖ Until we're tested, we don't have a sense of self, of our own power.

❖ The question is not whether but how we meet our adversity. The issue is not shielding from but preparing for adversity in order to meet it well.

❖ To keep hope, to see beauty, to be curious and imaginative is to find in the awful a new and promising experience.

❖ Everyone has something rare and powerful to offer our society.


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Glynn said...

There are kinds of adversities, and levels of adversity. I see this, and I'm both humbled and inspired.

Joyce Wycoff said...

Maureen ... thank you so much for this ... she is beautiful all the way through. I've passed it along to facebook.

Janet Oberholtzer said...

Thank you - thank you for sharing this. I've never liked the word disabled or normal - and hearing her articulate why she doesn't like certain words gives me new thoughts/language to explain why I don't.

Louise Gallagher said...

Thank you for the inspiration this morning. I shared it on my blog too!

Kathleen Overby said...

Maureen, I am weeping. I have known the spirit crushing, and have danced with God. Both. This was beyond beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I love following you around. You take all of us to the best spots. Thanks for this.

sarah said...

such an inspiring post!

Billy Coffey said...

"Adversity is just change we haven't adapted ourselves to yet." Love, love, love that.

Anonymous said...

this is x-ing good!

S. Etole said...

thank you, Maureen ...