In Contemporary Appreciation of a Unique Teacher and Human Being: Wolf Wolfensberger
Wiliam Bronston, MD
No one in the Twentieth Century has had such a profound impact on the language, content, imagery, integrity, cadre training efforts or literature in the field of developmental disabilities as Wolf Wolfensberger. It can be said that, given this monumental contribution, mediated through hundreds, and thousands, of human service workers whose efforts and perspectives have been shaped by his direct and indirect teaching, the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of different people, have been transformed. Not a small endowment. In fact, if there were a Nobel Prize to be given in "Human Services" or "Societal Values", Wolf would be on the very short list for that recognition.
There is no more riveting lecturer, more avid student of history, sociology, Western religious philosophy, psychology, community systems design and organizing than this septuagenarian. The extensive presentation of his thinking and insights into the human service field from its earliest beginnings in Western society is a tour d' force of scholarship and altogether unmatched brilliant analysis. Its sheer volume, relentless unfolding story filled with all the indelible superstitions, sacred and profane human foibles, its chronicling of mankind’s progress and tragedies forging millennial legacies which comprise the practices and beliefs of the present, is unprecedented in scope, significance, originality and truth telling.
Wolf asks and gives no quarter in his authoritative and judgmental telling of this story. It is a drama presented through his lens of morality, express value and historical traumas that were burned into his soul witnessing the monstrosities of the Third Reich Nazism that was main stage during his boyhood in Germany. Here was the culmination of sanctioned "death-making", the model whereby grey unmarked transport buses carted off the mass denizens of the German state institutions that, in the mid 30s, housed those who came to be labeled "mentally dead"…to their physical extermination, before the regime’s "Final Solution" was thrown into full gear. He is very, very clear about the inescapable logic of devaluing human beings, the consequences of professionally codified dehumanization that surely leads to the extermination of those souls a society labels, perceives, and markets as "less than human". First what dies is social status, then individual identity, then independent spirit, then sanctity of flesh and bone and finally, with the chards of existence that remain…life altogether, not defined as life of any kind when the execution legitimately occurs.
The layers of human history that Wolf turns open, using the phenomenon of labeling others and the promulgation of image through the eyes of the purveyors of each societies establishments is his marker. He examines, as our species increased in numbers, journeyed from one paradigm of belief to another, agonized through wars, pestilence, technological and societal evolution, how the methodical multiplication of alienation from each other occurs and its attendant violence, that seems to be a pitiless pattern.
These lessons he frames would normally be a terrible turn-off for those who may concede to a changeless "human nature" or feel themselves powerless or constrained from playing a confident and active role in promoting social justice, compassion, dignity, transformation and empowerment for all our kind. However, there are those who derive great strength and courage, experience breakthrough insights that things don’t have to be this way, when they get clear about how awful things have been, For these seekers, Wolf is a pure infusion of hope, vision, leadership and breathtaking brilliance…just the medicine needed to antidote so much of the illness that afflict our lifetime of global and cultural "might makes right" politics.
Here is the story of the ancient origin and Odyssey of human services to the present, concentrated, distilled, spun with indelible meaning, unique insights, and withering indictments, that deliver what for most is just the way it is. But, for the self-conscious member of our "polis", the citizen student, the instinctive change agent, the role model aspirant for the humanization of all our lives ― these rare, rare teachings are without equal. Here the truths Wolf presents give us the possibility of genuine choices, freedom from the past tyrannies, to invent, to live into a completely different present and future of our conscious, value based design. Wolf Wolfensberger has no peer in gathering and offering this cultural and historical story and its challenges. This encyclopedic set of timeless lectures and inspired teaching will change your fundamental understanding of how things really are and work in society…and…will change your life if you are willing to use the X–ray vision he bestows on us.
William Bronston, MD