Thought for the Day - Rev Lucy Winkett - 09/08/2012
The sight of a grown woman lying on the floor, her wrist pinned down by the foot of someone who was supposed to be caring for her was one of the more shocking images that emerged from Winterbourne View the private hospital which was home to forty four people with learning disabilities until its closure in May 2011.
While it seems that attitudes are changing for the better with regards to people with physical disabilities – we are just about to celebrate the sporting achievements of elite Paralympians for example – it’s arguable that despite one or two pioneering characters in television dramas, people with learning disabilities are largely, as was commented in the case of Winterbourne View, out of sight, out of mind.
With the exception of some innovative individuals, in general, it would require a revolution in social attitudes to stop thinking of adults with learning disabilities as people simply to be looked after or rescued in some way – to stop thinking like this- and start talking about listening to, learning from, taking a lead from adults with learning disabilities. For a short while some years ago I lived in a L’Arche community (www.larche.org.uk); a movement started by the French Canadian Jean Vanier. L’Arche, meaning Arc, seeks to be a place where assistants like me and core members who have a learning disability live together, go to work, cook for each other, care for one another, build a home.
The ethos of L’Arche communities which are now all over the world, is based on a Christian gospel which insists that each soul inhabiting each body, is a mysterious, precious and creative spirit that deserves a chance not just to be looked after but to flourish, contribute, defy, blaze a trail if they want to. Of course it was not an easy place to be at times; in relationships with people with learning disabilities, all the usual human moments of connection, argument or celebration take place without the assumptions that sustain human interaction otherwise. But the depth of this gift together with the challenge it brings is simultaneously thoroughly practical and almost too profound for words.
Some of the jargon used in this area is telling. A ubiquitous term that of a carer; clearly a misnomer in the private hospital that has been in the news – but the word care comes from the Christian concept of caritas; love that has a strong sense of justice, an attitude of honour and reciprocal respect.
My experience in the L’Arche community taught me that the behaviour exhibited at Winterbourne View was not only cruel, it was blasphemous too. It is a core Christian principle that everyone without exception, has within them the intrinsic human dignity of one made in the image of God; what we saw in those pictures shames all of us, hopefully makes us angry, and gives us courage to state afresh that we will not let this happen again.