We live in a culture of self-advocacy and self-preservation. But countless giants of history, including Theodore Roosevelt, have spoken of courage and “daring greatly” with direct correlation to putting others first. And the funny thing about putting others first, it means you don’t get to be first.
“Instead, you have to trust someone else (maybe one of those “others”) is putting you first before themselves in their own lives.”
It is, admittedly, a hard pill to swallow. I have trouble with it every day, but I’m thankful for friends and family who are constant examples and inspiration for me to put others before myself.
I’ve been blessed with an amazing community around me, friends who pour into my life and care for my needs any way they can. My buddy Josh gets off a busy third shift job just in time to swing by my house and get me up in the morning. Last year, my neighbor Danny left his wife and kids for a week and flew cross-country with me to attend the wedding of my cousin – someone Danny didn’t know “from Adam.” At my local coffee shop, the baristas are happy to help me in the restroom, and the other patrons meet my needs like it’s just part of their daily caffeine intake.
And I’m asked on a regular basis how I do this, how I build my network or advocate for my needs. But the truth is, I don’t.
“The truth is, it’s not about me, but about everyone else.”
It may be cyclical, and kind of a chicken and egg situation, but we care for each other. I listen to them, I hug them and invest in their hearts. I ask how they’re doing and help any way I can to make their lives better. My friends go out of their way to shower me, dress me, travel with me, move a chair or pour my tea for me; they care for me because I care for them. If we put each other first, everyone gets taken care of.
Another aspect of building community is that it happens naturally. My community isn’t my doing alone. I’m just one of the guys, one of our crew, and any of us can invite others into the experience of our friendship. My job in all this is to be present and love those around me, and I too invite others in as they come by. And when it comes to your needs as a person with disabilities, as you spend time with new people, and they see your needs met by others, your needs become normal to them and next thing they (and you) know, they’re helping out too.
So, I’d say don’t worry too much about that side of it. Just love people, and don’t hide your needs, but put theirs before your own. Ultimately, it’s not about how people treat you, but how you treat them. That’s what builds community and changes the world for the better.