Professor John McKnight:
Capacity Building Beyond Community Services
Do you have anything to say to parents who have a child who has been diagnosed and labeled as having disabilities?
Well, I think our work has something to say to any parent about any child, and that is, the most harmful thing you can do to a child is label them. And you may think you're doing something positive. So on occasion, I'm someplace, and somebody in the audience stands up and says "I'm Mrs. So and So, I'm the mother of a disabled child." And then maybe I meet that child and within two sentences the child says I have Down syndrome or I'm a self-advocate something. So both of them are carrying, they are messengers for negative labels. And that means that they've internalized somebody's view that the important thing about them and their children is a label and it's generally a negative label.
Now I think we understand rather clearly that if I had a child and every morning when the child got up I said, "Well, Johnny, you're really a bad kid," and he went to school and the teachers confirmed my message, "Johnny, you're a bad kid." I don't know any surer way to make a bad kid than that. And we all understand that, but that's just one other kind of label, right?
So I think any parent should do everything they can to never label their children and to avoid or correct people or professionals especially who are labeling their children, because those labels hurt both the person who has the label and the person who looks at the person with the label. Bad-hearted John. Look at me, what do you see Professor McKnight. Look at me, what do you see?
You know, everybody knows this because when we write resumes where we are somebody outside who wants to get inside, we produce a document that is just half the truth, don't we? We don't say, you know, I'm constantly in debt, I don't get places on time, right? I have trouble constantly with colds, right? We don't use that when we want ourselves to be accepted and included. So that's the point. Nobody in this world ever used labels to describe themselves when they wanted a job, right? They tell half the truth, right?
And it's... that's the real answer for the future of anybody. Get the full half out front and keep the empty half in the back. And if you wanted to do something about the empty half, the thing that will do more than anything else about the empty half is to put the full half in the front.
The real lesson is when we're introducing somebody, how often do you have somebody who's introduced around the negative half? How often, 'Oh, I'd like to introduce you to my good friend bad-hearted John." When did you last hear that? As against, you know, "I'd like you to meet John, and, you know, he's a tenor and he sings in a choir, just like you." So almost always if we want to get somebody in touch with, in the care of, in relationship to another person, if we label them, it's about their capacities and gifts, it's never their deficits.