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Posted by Philip on 20 March 2017, 4:48 pm in , , , ,

How CP has made me tolerant but not patient — and what that's taught me about success and diversity

This morning I woke up to find a notification on my iMac screen telling me my trackpad battery was very low and to charge it. Further investigation by clicking the Bluetooth icon confirmed the battery was at 2%. I set to the task of plugging the lightning charger plug into the trackpad.

What would have taken most people two or three seconds took me over five minutes. One of the effects of CP (Cerebral Palsy) is that I have poor fine motor co-ordination (and only slightly better gross motor co-ordination). So the process of getting the half-centimetre-wide plug into the same size socket was, literally, hit and miss until I hit it.

I could have waited for ten minutes until my PA arrived but, ever since I was a kid, I've had this almost compulsion to succeed at mundane tasks, such as this. In my mind, I'm saying, "You're not going to beat me, you bastard!" And I just keep trying and trying until I succeed or someone sees me and says, "For God's sake, let me do that for you!"

This persistence, this determination to do these stupid tasks, which was installed in me by my parents, bless them, has stood me in good stead. I've scaled it up to enable to complete school, live independently, run a successful business, be NZ's only out gay, disabled comedian and many other things in my life.

A lot of people, seeing me struggle to do do the mundane tasks often remark how patient I must be. But, oh, how wrong they are. I am the most impatient person I know. I hate being stuck in traffic, queueing at shops, waiting for people to arrive — I even get impatient waiting for websites to load on fibre optic broadband.

What I am, though, is extremely tolerant. Patience and tolerance are often confused. Consult the Oxford Dictionary and we see the difference:

patience: the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious

tolerance: the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with; or: the capacity to endure continued subjection to something such as a drug or environmental conditions without adverse reaction.

When I'm struggling to put lightning plugs in sockets, or waiting in a traffic jam, I'm extremely annoyed and often anxious. But I do have the ability to endure continued subjection to conditions without adverse reaction. (Maybe I'm not quite so tolerant of opinions and behaviour I dislike!)

But, the learning here, for me, is that patience, while considered virtuous, can be a disabler. Had I been more patient, I may well have been content to settle for less and may not have been as successful as I've been.

Another learning is that tolerance is not enough to embrace diversity and neither, for that matter, is patience, however virtuous.

Diversity needs, at the very least, acceptance — "agreement with or belief in an idea or explanation" but it can also mean a "willingness to tolerate a difficult situation: a mood of resigned acceptance."

What diversity needs is encouragement — "the action of giving someone support, confidence, or hope; persuasion to do or to continue something; the act of trying to stimulate the development of an activity, state, or belief."

Embracing diversity requires more than changing an attitude. It needs more than different words and actions.

At the heart of it, diversity asks, what are you going to do, give, stimulate or persuade? What are you going to stimulate or develop? And mostly, how long are you committed to continuing these actions?

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