The Human Library…a challenging experience
Yesterday I gave a dementia friends session to a group in Oswestry. Disabled Oswestry, or Oswestry DO. Lovely bunch of people of all ages and backgrounds. Demonstrating how vibrant and active our communities can be.
When you have something to fight for you get up and DO! And they do. Rights. Access. Homes. Equity. And just living as well as they can.
That went well. I was cued in. Ideas and facts flowed.
Then I went to a Human Library session in Shrewsbury.
I am a human library book. One of about eight in Shropshire. And our little library is one of a hundred around the world.
It is a worldwide organisation (http://humanlibrary.org).
We aim to challenge prejudice and stigma and lack of understanding of others.
So there are books entitled Autism, Loss, Grief, Obesity, Polyamorous, Dementia, Gay Dad, Young Single Mother, Blind…
And what is unique is that each is unique. And every one fails to conform to the stereotype of normal in their community.
Human beings search for safety. All animals do, and we are, after all, sentient animals.
We scan for threats. Constantly.
Walking up the high street. In a crowd. On a dark night.
Threats are conceived as something different from what we expect. Something not like us, or our usual surroundings.
And if we are feeling insecure we see threats more than if we are feeling secure, safe and loved.
So, we focus our negative, safety craving thoughts on people who are different from us. Migrants, LGBTQ, religions, intellectual ability, disability…these are the people we may fear.
And they are thinking the same thoughts.
There is safety in numbers, in the herd.
To be different is to be a threat, and to risk being an outsider.
Don’t judge a book by its cover!
This is the fundamental credo of The Human Library.
Borrow a human book and read it. Ask it anything you like. Get to know it.
Allow your preconceptions to be challenged. Open your mind to others.
And see inside the cover.
And when you have finished you will know that what’s inside us is not what you thought. And feared.
So there I am, sitting waiting to be chosen.
Sometimes I am left on the shelf. Others, I am read three times.
A lady comes over and opens my cover.
She asks me questions.
And I stumble. And stare. And try to find a route into the answers.
What did I feel when diagnosed? What were my early symptoms? How do I feel now about the future?
And try as I might I could not cue into that place, that locked away place, where I would easily find the answers.
That morning I was fluent. In the moment. In the right place.
Two hours later, I was locked out.
And I think it was because I had not prepared myself on the way to the library. I had not cued in. I had not found the path because I had not imagined where I was trying to end up.
And in fact I presented a good example of how dementia can affect us. Long pauses. Staring into space as I tried to work out where that path was. Finding an answer of sorts.
She was patient. She smiled. She waited.
But that was the worst reading I have had. Because it was real.
And it was a vision of what is to come.