What is the good life?
Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa,
The disability world is known for many things including some interesting language, acronyms, metaphors and labels. Our sector is awash with language that can be confusing for those of us who spend considerable time in the space and almost a foreign language for others. Another interesting phenomenon is when we take a generic term and adopt it is as if we all know what it means, when in fact observation would suggest we have widely varied concepts and understandings. One such term that is current is ‘the good life’.
As an ideology the notion of the good life has ancient roots. History, poetry, music, drama, story, folk tales have a rich dialogue on the idea of what makes life good and often highlights how frail it can be. Even within our own sector the good life is not a new term. Dr Wolfensberger, Dr Kendrick and many other commentators have written widely on the subject of what makes life good, or at least ‘gooder’ for disabled people and their whanau and what are some of the common ways life may be less than good.
When we talk with people about the idea of a good life for their family member or the people they serve, there is usually an initial sense that the good life is a subjective notion i.e. one person can never know what makes life good for another, it is a completely individual set of specifics for each person. However, when we dig deeper and give more thought to the notion we can begin to uncover a number of very objective life domains that for the vast majority of human beings (impaired or not) are fundamental to a good life. These include:
- a loving family
- good friends and healthy relationships / friendships
- safe and secure home where I can be myself
- financial security
- an ability to make a meaningful contribution to the world in which I live
- a connection with a higher purpose or spirituality.
It is certainly true that the exact nature of each aspect needs to ‘fit the person’ i.e. is the individual a townie or a country dweller at heart; do they like many friends or are they content with just a few deeper relationships; what a meaningful contribution means from person to person will vary. It is also true that if people have life domains where they do not have a good fit and are in situations where there is a proxy arrangement, such as a ‘home like’ environment, instead of true home, they will not be at their best and we cannot say they have the good life.
Another area that seems to confuse many of us is the domain of friendships and relationships. It is far too common to hear people talking about friendships for the people they serve that bear little resemblance to the friendships and relationships they enjoy in their own lives. Or we hear paid staff being referred to as friends, when the paid staff person themselves have no people in their life who are paid to fulfil the role of ‘friend’.
Another term which is often promoted in the good life space is the natural network. What actually does this mean? One way to possibly think about the ‘natural network’ is that it refers to people who are proactively in another’s life because they want to be there - not because they are paid.
Is it even possible to connect the individuals served with others who do so for reasons excluding financial reward? We have a vast array of examples that answer a resounding YES to this question. And we can go on to say that not only is that of great benefit to the person served but it is also often deeply rewarding for the ‘natural network’. Here is just one of many expressions of this dual reward:
“At the start I was nervous about communicating with Jeremy but soon enough I began to understand him more and more. We began to be able to talk to each other with ease and I gained confidence in seeking understanding and asking questions. The favourite part of my visits with Jeremy was when we would share about our week and he would make jokes that would never cease to make me laugh. I spent time with Jeremy once a week.
Jeremy goes out to businesses as a mystery shopper and then reports his experiences with any recommendations for the business to improve their facilities and customer service. The aim of Jeremiah–X is to improve public facilities making them more accommodating to people who have disabilities. I would help Jeremy write emails, edit the Jeremiah-X website, do invoicing and write reports. He would dictate to me what he wanted to say and then I would write it out for him. Jeremy would always ensure that it was completed to a high standard. I was always so impressed by his work ethic and his determination for his reports to be the absolute best they could be.
My work with Jeremy helped me to become much more aware of his everyday challenges, even small things such as the type of mouse that is used at the library computers and the width of doorways. I have never struggled with things such as these and it has really made me so much more grateful that my life is so easy.
Jeremy has inspired me an incredible amount. Even when I was my most stressed and tired, I would always leave our sessions with a massive smile on my face. His light is so bright and his positivity is infectious. Jeremy has started a business that will truly make a difference in the life of those who struggle with disabilities. The fact that Jeremy has dedicated himself to this work despite facing his own struggles, has impacted me greatly. I am in awe of his determination.
Working with Jeremy has given me so much more than I could ever have given to the work. It has helped me to grow as a more patient, understanding and practical person, but most of all this work has given me a friend. I am so appreciative of the time that I have shared with Jeremy. I am a huge believer in the power of his work. The fact that I have been blessed enough to be a part of this journey is something that I will always be grateful for”. - Danielle Mauritius.
At ImagineBetter we fully support the notion of a good life for disabled people and their family / whanau. We also fully support our sector having a much deeper understanding of what that actually means for the people served, for our organisations and agencies and for the wider change / transformation agenda.
ImagineBetter enjoys working with people, families and organisations towards the goal of achieving the good life. There is little we do that cannot be tracked back to this goal and - as always - we’d love to hear your thoughts.
Ka kite ano,