Maintaining individual spirit power within institutionalized contexts

      Have you ever been slighted by an institution? Has an institution attempted to take some of your personal happiness or personal spirit power? Even if the pain inflicted is not intentional, it can still potentially create havoc on an individual’s psyche.

            For me, personally, some of the struggle involved getting through school as a person with disabilities. On the whole, I would say that my education went fairly well. For example, I was fully included in courses and often able to achieve my full potential. After that, I was able to go to college and graduate school and had similar experiences there. That didn’t mean that things were always easy, though. Moreover, my graduate school experience ended quickly and unexpectedly when I did not pass qualifying exams despite some of my success both in the classroom and in research.

            What I came to realize is that we cannot always be dependent on institutions to fulfill our emotional needs. We can only offer our excellence.  I am not trying to dismiss institutions in the slightest. However, we do have to create and/or maintain relationships with institutions that are affirming of our best selves.

            Being our best selves is not just about affirmation. Not all things are good for us. However, when we are encouraged by an institution and/or another person to be at our best, we are at the nexus of acclimation and conscience, which allows us a much better chance for success. Our choices make us who we are as human beings.

            There is a quote from a Laura Hershey poem (1991) that illustrates this point. The poem “You Get Proud by Practicing” concludes with a stanza that basically says that although an individual may not be responsible for shame, one can be responsible for pride. If you are interested, the poem can be accessed here: The quote is poignant because it states that although we cannot always control the actions of others or make big social changes happen immediately, we can still control our own identity and happiness.

            Even if you are in a marginalized situation or are struggling in some other way, you can control the way you see yourself and, often, how others see you. In her TED talk “The Opportunity of Adversity” Aimee Mullins (2010,, downloaded April 25, 2014) called for others to “acknowledge potency”. While it is critical for others to “acknowledge potency”, as Mullins herself seems to state, it is also critical for the individual to be empowered by the experience.  Part of this is utilizing various individual assets to create a positive identity.

      Mullins is sometimes criticized for relying on her privilege and her looks. These critics seem to believe that this invalidates her points about empowerment. What Mullins has done is to engage core strengths, including her intelligence, athletic ability, positivity, and even her looks into a powerful presentation of her self-image. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. These strengths and weaknesses are not all the same, but whatever an individual’s strengths may be, they can be applied toward empowerment. Relying on negative thoughts and mental blocks usually do not bode well for positive identity formation.

      An individual’s character, formed by others, but more important by the individual’s own sense of self is critical to handling life’s challenges, including those that come from institutionalized forces, with grace and fortitude. When we take control of a situation in a responsible, but life affirming way, we create the best chance to create peace within ourselves. This is perhaps the best way to maintain individual spirit power within institutional settings.

            Be at your best,

            Andrew Bennett


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