This past Wed, we (where I work - the people with disabilities business resource group) had our 5th annual disability awareness dinner. The first year we put this together, we wondered how we would find enough people to attend and if we could make the dinner happen. It has grown from that first year of about 80 people to well over 100. Many different "types" of people come - people with disabilities, family members, friends, supporters of people with disabilities, employees where I work, representatives from businesses who provide support services, and I'm sure I'm missing something. This year, representatives from at least 30 organizations were there. Those are the "stats" of the dinner.
This year, for me and some others who have been there for multiple years, it felt like it was the best one. Why? That's hard to say. Nothing changed significantly in terms of our approach to it. Our organization's leaders showed up for the first time, but that wasn't what gave it this better feel. People may have different reasons for why, if they are part of the group who thought it was better this year... why they thought so.
I've given thought and think I know, at least in part, why it has been good and was better this year. It has to do with a general environment that has grown in society. On Tues, I watched the presidential debate. I made silly comments on Facebook about the debate, comments which had nothing to do with politics. This debate seemed about who could attack who better - I started wondering if they might throw punches at some point. There have been 2 debates and interrupting the moderator, by both candidates, occurs. Respect for the moderator is tossed out the window. Neither candidate really answers the questions, but in a method called "pivoting," instead turns their answer into what they want to say. Then the battle begins about who said or did what in the past, why that was bad, and the debates are about making the other person look as bad as possible. It's very negative.
The same occurs in Congress. No matter which party is "in charge," it's all about making the other party look bad. When I think of all this, it's a display, from "the top" of our country of how we treat each other, which isn't good. Downstream from that, many people are not happy in jobs - this is true of many people in many companies - and you can read about it. People are not treated well and there's a negative atmosphere. How we treat each other is so important. Someone asked me recently what I would do, as a leader, if I had bad news to deliver to a group. My answer was that I would start with the good - what is going right - from that I think the bad can be turned - if we see how the good is working and what makes things successful. I don't get that opportunity much at all, but what I'm suggesting is not done, starting with things like presidential debates, which to me almost grant permission to skip the positive and go straight for the attack.
Our dinner was very different than what I just described. I think we threw out the negative. There were no politics there. It was an atmosphere where people could connect with others if they wanted. As a lead for this, I didn't get to eat much, but I got to talk to people. Since people have been coming for multiple years, it feels like connecting with friends. There was a positive energy where we talked about who was there, who brought materials for people to take home, etc.
Each year we've had a group called Phamaly perform. This group is the only professional theatre group comprised only of people with disabilities, and it's located in Denver. Their performance brought both laughter and feeling to the dinner. Since they have been performing each year, it feels like we are making that connection each year as well. Their performance this year brought many people to tears for various reasons.
I talked with one person about the importance of building bridges. There certainly are problems. But instead of sticking to a problem, build bridges and that is how we move on.
At the end of the dinner event, I had this really satisfied, almost peaceful feeling.
I should note the dinner almost didn't happen. There was a question of funding and we weren't sure we could have it at the same place. But I plugged forward with initial efforts, and the 3 of us who put it together found ways, through very busy and challenging schedules, to make it happen.. Near the dinner, we were all overwhelmed with work, I got sick, and another one was fighting fatigue. But with all the doubts of getting started and all the obstacles thrown in our paths, that feeling that positive energy made the dinner worth hurdling many obstacles.
I still carry the positive energy with me. I have been exhausted for 2 days, wanting to sleep but not being able to do so. The day after the dinner, I had emails of thanks but no one around me was aware of the dinner (well, maybe 1 or 2 people were). It can be difficult to keep focused on that sense of community, of the positive feelings, of the smiles and hugs from friends, of the praise that it went well, of the comments of our strong leadership which made the dinner happen again.
Approaching new situations, I'd like to think I can use this model of being positive, to change things and bring some things back where they used to be. That's what I think is needed all over the place. I would like to find a way to refuse the negative, or to at least find a way to channel it into positive.
To anyone who reads this who was there that night, thanks for helping create a unique environment of positive energy.