Living in the Great State, Detroit

Posted: October 29, 2009 in Disability Deliberations

DETROIT
By Mark E. Smith

Which of the two cities would you rather live in? One with a 28% unemployment rate, three times worse than the national average, or a city with a flourishing job market in health care, education, and technology? Would you rather live in a city with among the highest violent-crime rates in the country, or a city with among the best-rated suburbs to raise a family and retire? And, would you rather live in a city where the freeways are lined with blighted, abandoned factories, or a city full of green space and beautiful parks?

Of course, no rational person would pick a city with sky-rocketed unemployment, crime, and blight over one with booming job sectors, affluent suburbs, and tree-lined streets, right?

Not necessarily. See, both of the above described cities are really one in the same: The Detroit metropolitan area – a city that some residents wish to flee, while others tout it as among the best places to live.

Detroit, indeed, proves as a fascinating study toward how our own thinking truly dictates the tone of the world around us. In a recent visit to Detroit, I saw first-hand many of its ailments – such as when driving down the Chrysler Freeway, which looks like you’re passing through a war zone of bombed-out factories at times – but I also saw prosperity and an amazingly vibrant city in its flourishing suburbs and revitalized downtown. And, when I spoke with many who live in the Detroit area, the juxtaposition remained, with clear divisions toward how its residents feel – that is, they either hate or love the city, they either think it’s withering on the vine or getting better every day, with very few opinions in-between. Literally, based on who you ask, Detroit is either Hell on Earth, or among the best places to live in the United States.

Make no mistake, living with a disability is a lot like living in Detroit: One’s outlook plays a paramount role toward its deemed outcome. After all, the world – with few exceptions – reflects one’s own projections back upon oneself. If a resident sees living in Detroit as Hell on Earth, or paradise, it can truly be either one – and the same subjective notion holds true for living with a disability.

A wheelchair, in itself, proves the perfect model – a Detroit, you might say – for how one’s perspective makes all of the difference in how successfully one copes with disability. To some, nothing is more emblematic of all that’s lost than a wheelchair. To such individuals, a wheelchair is an object of confinement, a rolling prison, the most tangible sign of one’s disability. From the inability to walk, to a lack of accessibility, to portraying stereotypes, some see their wheelchairs as nothing but burdensome devices that have destroyed their lives.

To the contrary, others with disabilities see a wheelchair as a tool of liberation, a device that gives them the freedom to pursue as many activities as possible – education, work, family, community – welcoming all of the opportunities that the mobility of a wheelchair brings.

In this way, which perspective, then, do you suppose brings the most satisfaction and success to one’s life – hating one’s disability or embracing it?

It’s a common-sense rule that negativity breeds negativity, and positivity breeds positivity, so if we resent our lives – whether it’s resenting disability, or where we live – our outlooks truly dictate our potential. If one’s resentful toward one’s disability, of course one’s life will seem bleak and limited. Yet, the opposite holds true: If one embraces the opportunities that surround one, as with the life-changing abilities that a wheelchair affords, then one’s potentials seem markedly greater. Man, this new wheelchair will allow me to get around college and finish my degree!

Now, some might say that overlooking the negatives of any situation – from the downsides of disability to the woes within Detroit – is simply denying reality. However, the exact opposite is true. In fact, seeing the positive is about taking responsibility, truly realizing potentials, whereas dwelling on the negative shuns accountability. If you look at two unemployed people in Detroit, the one who stays positive and says, With things turning around, I know there’s a job for me somewhere here in this great city, is the one who’s bound to find a job, unlike the defeated mentality that says, With a 28% unemployment rate, I’m not even bothering to look for work in this Hell hole….

The same holds true with disability – that is, the minute one only sees the negatives, Being in this wheelchair has destroyed my life!, it’s game over, one has lost without even trying. However, when one takes responsibility and focuses on the positives – I’ve got this great wheelchair, now let me use it to reach my fullest potential – all possibilities for success are revealed.

Of course, in bleak situations – having a disability or being unemployed in Detroit – it can be natural to go into a mindset of apprehension. However, one has to make such a mindset initial and temporary, then quickly, consciously find the positives in the situation. Acknowledge the negative, then turn to the positives and potentials that allow one to not just solve an issue but actually elevate one’s life. Again, dwelling on negatives freezes one in one’s tracks and shuns accountability, whereas seeing the positives reveals potentials and fosters action. When your boat capsizes, don’t just float – swim to shore!

I was fortunate to meet a lot of prosperous, successful people in Detroit, just like I know many prosperous, successful people with disabilities – and both have accomplished their goals by staying optimistic, seeing the best even when facing worst. Be one of those types of people, one who doesn’t dwell on what’s wrong, but focus on what’s good and possible, pursuing the potentials that abound in each of our lives.

From living with a disability to living in Detroit, based on my experience, they’re both great places to be if you want to succeed – and a dash of optimism goes a long way.

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