Reframing “vulnerability”

Reframing “vulnerability”

A child hitches a ride with a neighbor (a disabled veteran “Grandparent”) at Hope Meadows.

Photo credit: Brenda Krause Eheart

2A GHC neighborhood is a place where those who are vulnerable (people with developmental disabilities, youth exiting the foster care system, wounded warriors, frail elders, etc.) are viewed as friends and family members—not as wards, clients, or non-contributing community members. How does this happen?

Daily encounters

In a GHC there is a core belief that everyone’s life has significance and meaning when we change our perception of what it means to be vulnerable—when, as the mother of a child with severe disabilities said, “we think differently about our relationships and responsibilities to one another.”

To change how we think about people perceived as vulnerable—to see them as we see our loved ones, as people whose lives have meaning and purpose and who give our lives meaning and purpose, we have to get to know them. And to do this, we need, as Susan Pinker writes in her provocative book, The Village Effect (2014), to have “constant face-to-face contact.” It is this, as Pinker labels “in-the-flesh encounters”, that tie us together.

Looking through a positive lens

Once we really get to know people through daily interactions, relationships form and we no longer first see differences and vulnerabilities, but rather we see the people we have come to know as friends, neighbors, and family–as individuals who help us and whom we help. And this, as one GHC resident said, makes us “feel a part of something” and gives our lives meaning.

By seeing vulnerable people through this new lens, a positive lens, the community evolves into a caring living environment for everyone. It comes to reflect what the philosopher John Dewey suggested in 1902: that what the best and wisest parents want for their own children, that must the community want for all its children.

Ultimately a GHC becomes a neighborhood where there is a constant supply of kindness in circulation—where differences fade and caring about each other is just part of daily life and being a good neighbor.

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