The Inability To Do One Thing
Highlights Abilities To Do Others
We recently had Snicker Sunday at church. It was great fun and tasty too. Every person was given a Snickers Chocolate bar but the sermon wasn’t about the bar. It was a gimmick. It made people curious and allowed me to introduce a discussion on why people snicker at the perceived inabilities of others or snivel over the inabilities they don’t have.
Tales of this happening in the younger years are legion. Kids try to do some particular thing, academically, athletically or socially, and fail. Peers snicker and the failing individual snivels.
To start the discussion I introduced several disabled but notable people:
Christy Brown (1932-1981)
Christy Brown was an Irish author, painter and poet who was born with severe cerebral palsy. Not just palsy but severe CP. He could hear and see as well as anyone but could only talk with a stammer and had control of only one limb, his left foot. At the age of five he grabbed a piece of chalk from his sister with his foot and made a mark on the slate. As the story goes, from that point onward he continued to show increasing and even extraordinary dexterity in his left foot.
In spite of being told he was mentally challenged, his family refused to put him in a convalescent home and his mother, picking up on evident signs of intelligence, taught him the alphabet.
Using only his left foot to write and paint Christy became a notable figure through his first book, an autobiography, My Left Foot, which was later made into an award winning film of the same name.
Jean-Dominique Bauby (1952 – 1997)
Jean-Do through a series of unfortunate events found himself with a rare neurological disorder called Locked-in syndrome, in which the mental state is perfectly normal and stable but the body is paralyzed from Head to toe. In the case of Jean-Do he was able to move only his left eyelid. Despite his condition, he wrote the book “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” one letter at a time by blinking when the correct letter was reached by a person slowly reciting the alphabet over and over again. Bauby composed and edited the book entirely in his head, and conveyed it one letter at a time. The book was published in France on 7 March 1997. Bauby died just two days after the publication.
Helen Keller (1880 – 1968)
Helen Adams Keller through an unfortunate illness at the age of 19 months was left unseeing and unhearing for the rest of her life. However, in spite of the extreme isolation imposed by such a condition and with the help of Annie Sullivan, she not only learned to read, write and communicate but she also became well know for the causes she represented.
The first word Annie taught Helen (age 6) was doll. She accomplished this by giving Helen a doll and then writing the letters d-o-l-l in the palm of hand repeatedly. It was a slow and frustrating process. It took over a month for Helen to realize Annie was associating a different word with each and every object. Once the learning started her desire for knowledge was unending and she eventually became a high profile advocate for many political/social issues.
Visiting over 40 countries she spoke and wrote for such causes as: the disabled, suffrage, pacifism, socialism and birth control. She helped found the HKI (research in vision, health and nutrition) and the ACLU.
She is the author of 12 published books and several published articles. She appeared in one silent film, Deliverance, and was the subject of several dramatic productions for the screen, the stage and TV.
Posthumously, Gallop recognized her as one of the most widely admired people of the 20th century, the State of Alabama included a depiction of her on the state quarter and several countries have streets name after her and more.
Philippe Croizon (1968 – )
The Frenchman, Phillippe Croizon, was born in 1968 full bodied and well able but had all four limbs amputated in 1994 due to an electrical accident while changing his antennae. Instead of being overcome with trauma, he was inspired while watching someone swim the English Channel and he decided to train and swim the Channel also. He accomplished this goal using fin type prosthetics in 2010 in just over 13 hours. He trained for 35 hours a week for over two years, experimenting with different prosthetics before swimming the channel.
Since then he and a fellow long distance swimmer have swum across four different straits separating five different continents one of which, the Bering Strait, had water temperatures just above freezing.
He also wrote the book “I Decided to Live” and completed a parachute jump.
There are two words that describe all of these people and the words aren’t usually associated: limited but motivated.
We think of limited people as incapable of achievement and expect very little from them. Pity is the usual response and words like “disabled” or “handicapped” is how we describe them. None of them would be considered high capacity individuals but in spite of limited abilities they were motivated and achieved celebrity because of the remarkable things they accomplished.
Let me introduce one more person:
Anthony Robles (1988- )
Anthony was born with only one leg, a huge limitation, and this physical disability wasn’t his only drawback. His father abandoned both his mother and Anthony shortly after he was conceived so he started life not only with an obvious physical limitation but he had to deal with a sense of rejection as well, an emotional limitation.
His mother, being a very wise parent, never allowed Anthony to feel sorry for himself and she never protected him. She allowed him to work through his sticking points, treating him as normal and expecting him to perform. Because of that he never learned to feed off pity.
Enter the sport of wrestling.
The mental and emotional conditioning his mother had instilled in him fired his engines and he determined to work hard enough to eventually win state championship in wrestling, which he did.
But, he didn’t stop there. Anthony went on to compete at the university level winning many awards and eventually winning the national championship. In his last year he was undefeated. That means Anthony was the best wrestler in his weight class in all of the USA, a remarkable feat for even a fully ambulant person.
Anthony also wrote the book “Unstoppable: From Underdog to Undefeated: How I Became a Champion.” In an interview on the Ellen DeGeneres show Anthony said he doesn’t like the words “disabled” or “handicapped.” They connote an inaccurate reality.
How Able Are The Abled-Bodied, Really?
Now let’s switch from the disabled to the able bodied for just a moment.
Michael Phelps is a well known sportsman who has accomplished more than any other Olympian in the history of the games.
He is healthy, he is strong and it takes a mammoth human effort for an equally healthy person to defeat him in certain swimming events. He has been beaten but not easily, not often and never by a handicapped person.
Phelps is considered anything but disabled but it is his inabilities that illustrate the point I would like to make.
Phelps has many more sporting options than a person with physical limitations but he can’t pursue them all. We don’t really know all the different things he could potentially do and possible excel at: play rugby, football, cricket, basketball, baseball or hockey but one thing we can say for sure is he can’t play all of them well at the same time.
In order to excel in one he had to limit his training to one, forget-avoid all the others, and work hard at the one he chose. Any attention he gave to the ones he didn’t choose would deplete his development in the one he did choose.
And the point? There is no such thing as an absolutely abled or disabled person. Everyone is limited either by choice or circumstance.
The most able-bodied individuals cannot do everything and the most disabled individuals can still accomplish great things.
Let me illustrate this further.
By the way. The things we cannot do represent limitations just as real as the loss of a leg or eye sight or paralyses but they aren’t as starkly obvious so we feel less imposed upon by them. Only when we ignore the reality of our inabilities, like a croaker at an Idols tryout, do these limitations become painfully obvious.
Now, with that in mind and after you’ve made your list answer these questions:
- Which side of the chart is longer?
Obviously the “Can’t Do” side is longer. Having a “Can’t Do” list has nothing to do with being negative. It is honest, smart and true to who you are. Knowing where your limitations are enables you to focus on your abilities.
- What side of the chart do many people give most of their attention to? What do we talk about the most?
People who never discover who they are and what they can do often spend time wishing they were someone else. Honestly analyzing your inabilities is one thing. Dwelling on them is a waste.
- How much attention should we give to the “Can’t Do” side?
Enough to figure out what you really can’t do.
- Why is it imperative that we spend most of our time focusing on the “Can Do” side of the chart?
Because it takes a lot of time and effort to develop any potential abilities to a high level. Developing abilities is hard work, able bodied or not.
- What did your “Can Do” list look like?
This is a good question to ask because many people are a bit vague or foggy about this. For example, if you said something like athletics or academics or art you’ve missed the point.
Every person in the Olympics is athletically capable but the range of specific disciplines is enormous. The more you hone any particular ability the more narrowly focused your discipline becomes. Pole vaulting and shot putting require a different abilities, training and disciplines. “Athletic” is too broad.
For Michael Phelps to excel in the events he entered he had to say no to all the ones he didn’t enter. He had to “limit” his participation.
And he had to keep that narrowed focus long enough to turn a “potential can do” into a “better than average can do” and eventually into an extraordinary one. Michael couldn’t do everything and still excel at any one thing.
Another way to illustrate this truth is through what I call the abilities pool. If you draw a circle and list all human possibilities in the circle you realize just how limited every person really is. No person can do everything. Actually no person can even do most things. The most highly gifted and capable people still represent only a fraction of the abilities in the pool. If anyone could do more than that then super heroes would lose their mystique.
You’re only the red dot.
So, If you would like to make the most out of life remember these truths:
- Count your blessings (abilities) don’t ask for one or bemoan the ones you don’t have.
Abilities are like friends. You can only have a few really close ones. But unlike friends, abilities are God given not pre-ordered. You can’t manufacture an ability you don’t have or exchange the ones you have for different ones.
First step? Discover you.
- Focus on the blessings you have not the ones you don’t have.
Many of the abilities people have are never used and that is sad because the ability God gives you isn’t near as important as what you do with it.
Your God given abilities will never go away but they will never amount to much either, until you develop and make use of them.
- When it comes to parenting, remember that your children are like never ending layers of revelation.
Children are like Christmas presents that take years to open. Their abilities are revealed slowly one layer at a time and only the most watchful parent sees them emerging.
My son, Tim, has a flare for art – drawing, painting – that I never realized until he started doodling on my desk pad, well after he finished his education, none of which focused on art of any kind. It was only when he was nearly finished with university that he admitted to a desire to study art. His mother and I never knew it but were pleasantly surprised when this ability started coming to the surface. I actually cut out some of his doodling from my desk pad and had it framed.
Tim also showed a remarkable ability at writing songs, singing and playing guitar. Who knew?
One Universal “Can’t Do”
One last word about the “Can’t Do” column on the chart.
There is one “Can’t Do” on the list that you absolutely cannot do. No one can but you and everyone else absolutely must have done.
You cannot save your soul but your soul must be saved. No person can earn or deserve salvation and no person can keep their salvation secure once saved.
The only solution is Christ. Jesus died for every person and promises to save any person that believes. His words. . .
Verily, verily (truly truly, absolutely absolutely) I say to you, the person (any person, male or female, adult or child, wealthy or poor, good or bad, right or wrong) that hears my word (at anytime, from any person, in any place, in any church or out) and believes on Him that sent me (God) has everlasting life (present tense, at the moment of belief) and shall not come into condemnation (ever) but is passed (definitely, finally) from death unto life. John 5:24
And Paul plainly said. . .
“Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Romans 10:13
The Bible says a person’s gift (ability), whatever it is, will make room for them and bring them before great men (Proverbs 18:16). Joseph being brought before Pharoah and David being heard before King Saul are good examples of this.
So the conclusion is, eat your snickers don’t express them and don’t snivel.