The Healing of Exploitation
By Carl Baty
Changing any long-established system will be difficult, at best.
First, everyone must decide what is working and what isn’t before there can be a decision as to what needs changing. This ‘everyone’ must include: the most marginalized, those who are living in situations where survival overrules compliance; the professionals providing the services; the intellectuals with the ideals of a best-case scenario; a translator able to speak the language of these very different worlds; and the facilitator to bring all the parts together.
Second, and most importantly, these parts, and all in attendance, must maintain an open mind to the equality of, and the necessity of, each part, as well as the single mindedness of the unit created to effect change.
One of the biggest obstacles to overcome is the inability to view speakers from the most marginalized segment of society as equals. There is always talk of these people being exploited, but exploitation can only be imposed on those of lesser stature. This inability to view all participants as equals prevents the observer from grasping the value derived from an invitation to participate.
Perhaps my experience can best demonstrate what I mean.
When I was asked to share the stage with Professor Syme at the May 2017 symposium, Community Agency & Health, I could not envision what I could possibly bring to the conversation. Of course, I knew I had an individual story, and I was more than willing to share it, but I had no idea how my story could impact anyone. I had shared my story several times in Twelve Step Program meetings, but this setting was so different and intimidating.
What I had no way of knowing was that the sharing of my experiences would have the greatest impact on how I would view myself.
During the session, I shared my story of how, at the age of 65, I was told for the first time that I had reason to be angry. While I was speaking, I became overwhelmed with emotion. Several times in my life I had been called angry, and it caused me to constantly look for what was wrong within me. But for the first time in my life, someone was telling me that I had reason to be angry. There was nothing wrong with me. There I sat, telling a room full of people that there is nothing wrong with me. The sharing of this information reinforced that belief within me. It was an emotional experience, for sure.
To anyone looking on, without the experience of, or empathy for, my background all that could be derived from what was taking place is some form of exploitation or aggrandizement. But, in my view, you can only exploit that which is not equal. If I am considered as equal, then I am not being exploited – I am acting within the purpose of my experiences. What could never be known by the organizers, anyone in attendance, or myself for that matter, was that I would grow to realize that all of what were previously viewed as liabilities had immediately become my greatest assets.
One lesson to be taken away from the symposium is that regardless of who the presenter is, what the educational background is, or how negative the experiences sound, each participant must be viewed as equal and necessary. Everyone stands to gain from this approach, and none more so than the one most would deem ‘exploited’.
If there was one thing I would change about the symposium, it would have been the panel discussion. The panel was diverse by definition, but there was no one on the panel that looked like me. There is a new term being used today, ‘people of color’, and this is now the standard to judge inclusion. My question is this: does this new term perpetuate the racism that has for too long been present in society?
My experience at the symposium can be summed up in three easy to understand parts:
- All my liabilities became my greatest assets overnight; I went from not even understanding what I had to offer, to understanding that I can give voice to those like me that go on unheard
- Healing became real; we talk about healing, but it is not until you start to talk about it in front of a group like we had there that it takes hold. I walked away a new person, and one that I am still getting to know
- It takes all of us working together to effect any lasting change, and to make everyone understand
Executive Director, Rounding the Bases