Have you ever felt challenged?
Worried that you were incapable of getting a task done?
Hopeless in the face of one need or another?
Afraid of ridicule or derision?
Paralyzed by fear of failure?
I have. I think most of us have.
But these are typically ephemeral feelings, voiced really to hear "you shouldn't worry" as opposed to serious panic. You see, most of us have the tools and the support and the deep-rooted knowledge that we can succeed; we can be victorious; we can triumph -- and maybe most importantly, we have been taught that momentary setbacks only make us stronger, make us more resilient, and give us better perspective for the future. In short, a little adversity is good breeding.
But what if you grew up being told you were stupid?
Incapable of learning?
Ridiculed by all, made fun of, focused on because you didn't look or talk or act like your peers?
What if intolerance was what you suffered and injustice was practiced on you?
What if you were put into institutions, locked up, willfully forgotten because you were different and no one could see any potential in you?
What if you were just written off in a perfect storm of inequality?
Hard to imagine?
Not if you are Ricardo Thornton, Sr., recently appointed to the president's (that's Obama) Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities. As a youngster, Ricardo spent time in two institutions, was written off, ridiculed, made to feel worthless. Today, Ricardo enjoys his children and grandchildren and a fulfilled life together with Donna, his is wife of 30 years... and is a strong and vocal advocate for closing institutions for people with intellectual disabilities. Watch the movie on their lives, Profoundly Normal.
Loretta Claiborne doesn't have to imagine. She knows what it means to be called the "R" word and to be laughed at. To be locked away out of sight -- but she has the last laugh with an honorary doctorate from Quinnipiac University and another from Villanova, and with a Disney film on her life called The Loretta Claiborne Story.
Danielle Liebel was told in second grade that she was stupid, that she would never learn or amount to anything. Her double major at the College of St. Benedict was Peace Studies and Theology, and after graduation she won the Peace First Prize Fellowship.
Kenneth Brown knows what it is to have a twin brother with autism. He knows what it means to feel the pain of ridicule and disdain in a way few ever experience. Kenneth has started a tutoring program on academic and leadership skills for students with and without intellectual disabilities.
What all of these inspiring individuals have in common is not just their ability to overcome diversity of a type most of us have never or will never experience -- that is obvious -- nor is that they are intellectually and/or physically challenged -- that is equally obvious.
What they have in common, what brings them together, what has helped to give them the strength to succeed in a world that had little or no use for them is the Special Olympics, a source of inspiration and motivation for more than 4 million of their fellow athletes, from over 170 countries, who together with their families, their friends and their supporters participate in some 80,000 sports, health and education events every year.
The Special Olympics movement began in the backyard of Eunice Kennedy Shriver as a summer day camp for kids with intellectual disabilities. She saw how poorly these children were often treated and with passion attacked the prejudice often inherent in their own families.
And so a movement was born. From one backyard it ricocheted around the world delivering one simple but powerful message -- everyone has gifts and deserves to develop and share them on and off the playing field.
But now the Special Olympics has entered a new phase and is breaking new ground -- announced at a recent White House event sponsored by President Obama and the first lady (full confession: My wife and I were there and were inspired big time).
Frankly, it is the new program that inspired me to write and share, and I hope that it inspires you as well -- in a Click and Shout way.
You see, Special Olympians have always played against themselves... and frankly, as you read about the history of the Games, that was in and of itself a revolution, a breaking down of barriers, a loosening of prejudice and biased preconceptions.
But now it is time for the next and bigger revolution -- The Unified Generation, as expressed by the Unified Games. Unified Sports® joins people with and without intellectual disabilities on the same team. It was inspired by a simple principle: playing together is a quick path to friendship and understanding.
Think on that a while. We live in a world where so much of the technology that was supposed to make the world a better place to live divides us, kills us, creates silos of ever-intensifying hatred and sows fear across the world.
We know from the Generation World BAV Study, fielded by Young and Rubicam (my company), that our world is becoming both ageless and borderless...more and more of us identify more closely with someone halfway around the world than we do with our neighbor across the hall.
People, all of us, are looking for meaning and within meaning, a means to connect and make it all real.
Imagine now, if you will, a world where people with intellectual disabilities lead the way, teaching us all that winning is often just about playing and that a smile and a hug never lose.
I was black and blue for weeks after my first foray into Unified Sports, but even though the bruises faded I have not lost the feeling of having been blessed to participate.
One has to wonder -- surveying the world's battlefields, scanning the headlines of death and destruction and hatred -- who is really challenged and who is really enlightened.
Bottom line: If you are looking for a real revolution -- a real-world, game-changing idea, a real way to impact the future -- look no further.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver said it best at the 1987 Special Olympic World Games in South Bend, Indiana: "You are the stars and the world is watching you. By your presence you send a message to every village, every city, every nation. A message of hope. A message of victory."
Now let's unleash the full power of technology, the exponential power of digital social, and above all the power of Click and Shout.
Particularly for those of us like me who feel challenged.
What do you think?
(Photo by Charles Dharapak)