I see now how naive I’ve been throughout my professional life. It’s possible you also know this feeling—that sense, how to put it, that you were always Gomer Pyle in every meeting. I’ve always been the naive one. When there’s a committee and I’m on it I think getting things done in a collegial way is what it’s about. Sorry Gomer. The committee decided everything before you arrived.
In her excellent book “Surviving Autocracy” Masha Gessen writes: “The “freedom of our speaking with one another” depends on a shared language. ” I think of the dystopia of the work day. The meeting is about something good, maybe even unambiguously good like improving disability services at Widget College. But you’re not speaking the same language as the many who are largely without disabilities. You’re talking about access, accessibility, dignity for students and staff. They’re talking about checking off an administrative box. How is it you didn’t learn this lingo Gomer?
A big part of the reason I never learned the shared language of employment is that I’ve always believed when people are talking about the weather they’re really talking about the weather. But of course that’s silly! The average American knows weather-talk is just a front for back room chatter.
Am I naive because of my disability? Yes. My brand of optimism depends on believing there’s a shared language when, oh I don’t know, when diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility are on the table.
Back to Masha Gessen:
“The Russian poet Sergey Gandlevsky once said that in the depth of the Soviet era he was taken with the language of hardware stores. He mentioned “secateurs” (garden shears). It was a specific word; it had weight, dimensions, shape. When a person said “secateurs,” they could only possibly mean the distinct object the word indisputably described. The language of politics is less specific and more mutable than the language of hardware stores, even under the best of circumstances, but we can and should be more intentional when using it. The vocabulary of American political conversation is vague. ”
The disability version of “secateurs” is actually “access” but the non-disabled, hearing it, think about lunch, of what they’ll be having to eat when the meeting is over.
Gomer’s not thinking about sandwiches. He does tend to think talking about the weather is a real subject.