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Workable Socializing?

Dear Harvey,

The European Leaders' Conference and the recent Inclusion Workshop have finally enabled me to see something more clearly. I would like to tell you what it is and make a proposal.

I enjoyed the Leaders' Conference, especially the thinking done in the support groups. However, my overall sense was of a super car, in a garage, finely-tuned and polished, revving-up, but never being put into gear and driving off. I feel what I imagine to be a similar frustration to yours, and I appreciate your constantly offering new and clearer tools for discharge and re-evaluation, such as the 'understatement.'

What I have learnt from my own life, from building my own organisation and from the Inclusion Movement, is that collaboration is what works-not trying to do things alone.

The Inclusion Movement has created new tools in order to facilitate real collaboration. These are not majority-vote systems, or collective-irresponsibility systems, but real goal-setting, strategizing, action-taking, checking systems, based on the concept of 'giftedness.' (Giftedness recognises the individual contribution of every member of a diverse group as different, but equal.) Leaders are primarily good facilitators of these tools-much like in RC, in fact.

In my own organisation, I have been able to bring together all I have learnt from RC with all I am learning from the Inclusion Movement. As a result of this, even I cannot deny that we have been successful in our aims. Seven years ago we were six people who decided to change the education system in Britain, despite almost universal ignorance and confusion around 'Special Education' and a powerful vested-interest lobby that wanted passionately to keep things the same. The phrase 'Inclusive Education' had not even been coined. Now we have an alliance of sixty organisations and many families and individuals who are totally committed to making the change happen. Our chairperson is currently sitting on an advisory group to the new government, charged with writing a Green Paper (consultation document) on 'Special Educational Needs.' The general feeling is that although we are still losing individual battles, it is inevitable that we will win the 'war.' We have also given courage to many others who wanted to reclaim the education system from the false values of the 'market economy' and change it to one based on real human values. All are gaining strength from each other.

What I think is still too much missing from RC is the opportunity for collaborative action such as this. Many people are confused about the no-socialising policy and 'huddling,' as I was myself until very recently.

What I am proposing is that we introduce into RC the idea of goal-setting/action groups, which might work like this: One person or several people have a 'dream,' a personal desire to make a concrete difference in the wide world. This 'dream' must be positive, i.e., for something, not against something. The dream must be in accordance with our overall programme of creating a world in which oppression does not exist. This one person, or small group of people, should let people know that they would welcome meeting with any others who are also interested in this particular dream.

Once two or more people have come together for this purpose, a period of listening to each other, discharging, and goal setting should follow. This is very important. (For example, the 'dream' of my founder members in the Alliance is for schools in which all children are welcomed and valued, but our goal is to change one piece of legislation which allows local authorities to segregate two percent of the school-age population. We chose this goal because we feel that it is preventing our 'dream' from happening. It is a barrier which must be removed.) I think Area Reference Persons or Regional Reference Persons should have a role in checking out the goals that come out of such a group.

The next stage is for the group to design a strategy to achieve the goals. An essential part of this strategy must be to ask, "Who else supports these goals?" (in the wide world) and "How can we make a relationship?" This will immediately stop any tendency to huddle. The next stage is to implement the strategy. I am proposing that any joint or collaborative activities which are undertaken as part of this strategy not be considered 'socialising.'

Our experience in the Alliance has shown that such strategies require many different types of activity at once. For example: We created a new 'umbrella' organisation controlled by disabled people. We joined other organisations, such as the national Union of Teachers and the Circles Network. We challenged large established organi-sations to change their policies. We created new organisations to initiate necessary work which was not being done, such as 'Training for Inclusion' (which goes into schools, colleges, and Local Education Authorities to train them in organisational change). Some members have concentrated on creating models of good practice, some on publishing research, some on supporting families, some on changing the attitudes of their own profession, some on public speaking and the communication of new ideas. Some have concentrated on funding, filing, photocopying, and all the boring but essential work such organisation takes.

The goals also need constant review, and the time to do this must be built into the strategy. My own thinking is that dreams can be big but goals should be small enough to be achievable within the foreseeable future. New goals can always be set.

I also think that the core members of such a group should physically meet as often as possible. It seems to me that it is always isolation which defeats people in the end. (Our core group was constantly in and out of each other's houses and meeting in cars when we had no money at all. After three years and with some funding, we found a joint office to work from, but still we seem to need to telephone each other several times a week.) The group must also be open to new members-not closed, not a 'clique.'

There are particular groups called 'Circles of Support' which are being set up (outside of RC) around 'focus' people. These are people who are excluded or in danger of being excluded from society. The goal of the Circle of Support is to help such a person's dreams come into fruition. If RCers know about one of these groups and wish to volunteer together or accept an invitation to be part of it, I think this should be seen as an important contribution to developing the 'Inclusion skills' of the RC Community and should not be confused with socialising.

Finally, if people are short on ideas for rational goals, I have plenty to suggest! 'Every parent having a support group,' 'Proving that discharge works,' 'Circle time in every school,' 'Designing a rational economic system,' 'Clean air to breathe,' 'Attention therapy instead of Prozac.' I could go on and on!

I am of course suggesting that these groups be entirely voluntary and in addition to the other things which are necessary to maintaining the RC Communities.

Micheline Mason
London, England

(Present Time No. 110, January 1998)

Last modified: 2020-07-17 20:50:52+00