A year ago, we clipped the compelling excerpt, below, from Tom Shakespeare’s BBC article about research indicating that people with disabilities paradoxically tend to display a positive worldview and enjoy a good quality of life because of it (often better than the obviously-abled). Upon reflection, we have found this to be true with friends who have experienced changes in their abilities due to  strokes, amputations, illnesses.

Sue Austin
Sue Austin

Adaptation means finding another way to do something. For example, the paralysed person might wheel, rather than walk, to, places. Coping is when people gradually re-define their expectations about functioning. They decide that a stroll of half a mile is fine, whereas previously they would only have been content with a 10-mile ramble. Accommodation is when someone learns to value other things – they decide that rather than going for walks in the country with friends, it’s far more important to be able to go to great restaurants with them. This teaches us an important lesson – human beings are capable of adapting to almost any situation, finding satisfaction in the smaller things they can achieve, and deriving happiness from their relationships with family and friends, even in the absence of other triumphs.

Our appraisal of life with impairment may have less to do with reality than with fear and ignorance and prejudice. We wrongly assume that difficulties for people result in misery for people.

(Video link here.) The adaptive mechanisms Shakespeare describes reflect an improvisational mindset that USES constraints to find new paths, and finds joy in living. Often those constraints reveal unexpected gifts and talents. An adaptive worldview is an essential practice however-abled we may be.

via the late, great The Dish


*The only problem we have with Shakespeare’s excellent piece is the term “disability”(even though that is what Shakespeare calls himself) which, we’ve come to understand is more about a culture of “able-ism”, and the ASSUMPTION that most people are “able”.  Multimedia, performance and installation artist Sue Austin (image at top) challenges the idea of disability as “other”, an unnecessary divide. How many people do you know that are challenged by a physical or emotional condition isn’t readily apparent?  A LOT. More to come on that later…


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2 replies on “Life Practice: Cultivating an Adaptive Worldview

  1. Probably you’ve read it but, just in case not, I highly recommend Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal”, full of wisdom about living life fully in the midst of changing circumstances.

    By the way, not having seen your name until recently I wondered who you actually were (are…), then discovered to my delight that you are the author of one of my favorite cookbooks, “A New Way To Cook”. Leaving aside the ever-changing high fat/low fat arguments, I love your clean, refined sensibility (not only food, but pretty much everything as far as I can see), the excellent design and production of the book in every regard. Thank you for all your efforts.

  2. So many people have raved about that book, I’m going to order it right now. Thank you.

    And for your lovely words about A New Way to Cook. Yep, that was me, all 700 pages and YEARS of working on it. But it contains the roots of this improvising theme.

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