Equality, respect vital to well-being

Let me tell you about some very remarkable people. They’re about as diverse as possible — from all corners of society, from privileged backgrounds, from disadvantaged backgrounds, from different ethnic roots, from different skill levels, and from all age groups beginning with the early twenties and extending to the elderly.


They have pioneered where all of us need to go. To equality and mutual respect.


In years past, they rarely got either. And they rarely had the opportunity to give either.


What they have proved is how central both are to well being, and to sustainability in general.


Each weekday they meet at The Morphy Centre, near King Street and Spadina Avenue in Toronto. They work there, they eat there, they socialize there. They bring their problems there. The Morphy Centre’s mission statement declares that it « serves emotionally stressed adults, especially those with severe behaviour problems due to mental illness and/or dual diagnosis.’’


There are 66 people in the centre’s program. On any one day, about two-thirds attend.


Before you read farther, I should tell you that I’ve been president of the centre’s board of directors for the past two years, and even though my term is over and I’m stepping down, I don’t pretend to be an impartial observer. On the other hand, I may be able to offer some insights.

One is that hierarchies of control can be destructive. Another is that equality that recognizes diversity leads directly to good health. And by equality I mean real sharing, real respect. I do not mean equality of opportunity, which is just another way of saying that some (those with an advantage) are more equal than others.


The people that come to The Morphy Centre face more than one challenge. That’s what dual diagnosis means. For instance, they may experience schizophrenia plus no awareness of what constitutes inappropriate behaviour. They may face neurological impairment plus a hair trigger to explosive anger. They may entertain multiple personalities with one personality tending toward aggression. They may experience chronic anxiety and be reclusive.


The result is that through much of their lives, the support they needed wasn’t there. Agencies offering support with one challenge, couldn’t deal with the second or third challenge.


The most important things missing were equality and respect. There were rules which they had no say in establishing. There were behaviour standards set without their participation. And if they were attending a sheltered workshop where work was performed, there were procedures set by others for them to follow.


In short, the places were breeding grounds for frustration. So, guess what? People vented their feelings. They acted out. What else were they supposed to do? When so much energy is going into dealing with challenges, how much is left over for coping with frustration?


Then, of course, they left, or were asked to leave. Often they left for a hospital.


When equality is practised, when respect is shared, what happens is a feeling of belonging develops. A sense of community grows — and that happens whether the community is small, as it is at The Morphy Centre, or whether it is larger, for instance, a neighbourhood. A town. Even a company or an institution. All function infinitely better if people feel they belong. It is that sense of belonging that is the first step toward making them sustainable.


But practising equality is no easy thing in a society trained for hierarchy. Decisions can take longer because people need time to talk, time to reach and revise opinions. Those in official positions have to accept that their positions denote skills not power, and that they hold no special status in decision making.


At the Morphy Centre, goals and objectives are set by everyone, staff and participants together. The same goes for annual program evaluations. In daily activities, including the work program, participants decide for themselves what they are going to do. And how, when, and even if. Clients, who are paying for work to be done, understand and have been prepared to accept more flexible deadlines.


What it comes down to is that everyone has pride at their core. All they need is the chance to feel it. Allow for that and they’ll make the right decisions.


You should see how people at the centre have succeeded.

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