Differences Are Not Defects, They Can Be Strengths that Complement each other .

As part of Kentwood Community Church’s Leadership Class I was asked to reflect on an essay about diversity.  This is my response to Troy’s essay which deals with the prison walls he finds himself in because of his African-American skin color. 
Reflection on Troy’s “Unity” excerpt

By Jim McNaughton
Sometimes I feel the prison walls too.  I was in my young twenties, and went swimming at a public pool.  The lifeguard was cute.  But I knew I had no chance with her.  You see, I was part of a group for which the pool had been exclusively reserved. We were a group of mental patients.

When you’re a mental patient you can get locked up.  But after you get out you can get locked out; locked out of people’s hearts.  Sometimes once you reveal your mental illness, everything you do and say is interpreted by others through their lens of mental illness (they don’t see you anymore, they see every movie and newscast distortion of mental illness).  For example, you can’t get too upset about injustice, or they get worried about their safety around you.  You can’t get too excited and animated, or they say you are agitated and worry about their safety around you.  But the worst response is more frequent: they simply dismiss your credibility; you become a non-person; and they don’t stay around you.

Unlike skin color, I can choose whether to reveal my difference and risk “the prison walls”.  I hid this part of my life from most people for about 25 years.  Since being bought out of my 23-year career as an Advertising Designer, and finishing my Bachelor’s degree in 2010, I’ve been on a personal anti-stigma campaign. 

One in five people will experience some mental illness in their lifetime.  That’s about 600 people in our church or about a dozen people in this Leadership Essentials class.  And many will suffer without help because they fear the stigma of being labeled.

Racism and mental illness stigma are both based in ignorance and fear of the unknown.  Have the courage to face your fear and risk a relationship with someone who is different than you…  You may find that they are not all that different… from you.

I was a perfect parent… until I had children

The great thing about being young and inexperienced is that you know everything.  At least I did.  Before I had children I knew what every misbehaving kid needed.  Before children I had all the answers.  After children I don’t even remember the questions.  But it is not just the young and inexperienced who suffer from omniscience.  Experienced parents who believe that what worked for their kids will work for all kids cause greater pain.  And the parents of special needs kids, in my case kids with mental health challenges,  feel that pain.  Sometimes from the disapproving looks of strangers, but many times from the comments of their own parents, family and friends.
I was a perfect parent… until I had children
By Jim McNaughton B.S. (Barely Sane)
(Style inspired by Dr. Seuss, only for parents)
Some children are brought home and sleep through the night
They are corrected according to the books
They don’t fight and they don’t bite
And fall in line with one stern look
The parents of these
Children that please
Sometimes take the credit
They write books and give others looks
When the others just don’t quite get it
But we are not the parents of these that please
Our children not only don’t get it
They study us intently to learn our faults and
Our buttons in hopes to upset it
They can weave a lie without batting an eye
They love the crowds all around
To yell “you’re hurting me” and “I can’t breathe”
Though you’re NOT and they CAN
(And YOU just want to LEAVE)
Try Love and Logic they say
It works the best
(Unless you’re kid has no
Cause and effect)
Put up a chart… Charge him for you to do his chores…
You just need to be firm… You just need to love more…
We know the answer… (Though we hardly know your kid…)
We think we know him much more than you ever did
So the next time you see my child and me
Struggling while we go through the store
Please lend us some of your compassion


Advice… We don’t need any more.