“You have so much potential!” (an addition by Mel Baggs)

Mel Baggs added to the post “You have so much potential!”:

Any disabled person, especially a cognitively disabled person, with any history at all of being considered gifted, ever in their life, probably has their own, really horrible, relationship with this idea of ‘potential’.

realsocialskills said:

Yes, that too. Phrases associated with that:

  • “You’re too smart to waste your potential like this”
  • “You must just be bored because the work is too easy”
  • “Your gifts aren’t for you; they’re for the whole world” in response to being unable to function in the ways you expected to function
  • “The kids who are teasing you today are only on top in high school. Once you get into the working world, you’ll be in charge. They’re just jealous because they know that.”
  • “School is hard on smart kids, but college will be much better if you just stick it out so that you can get there.”
  • “You’re not applying yourself”

“You have so much potential!”

On the topic of degrading things that well-meaning people tend to say to people with disabilities:

  • “You have so much potential!”
  • “I truly believe in your potential!”

These can seem innocent, and sometimes it can be a benevolent thing to say. But when you hear it all the time, it becomes degrading.

When everyone you encounter is willing to acknowledge your potential, but no one is willing to acknowledge your accomplishments, it’s hard to believe in yourself. When all people see is your potential, it can be as though they are saying “don’t worry, it’s ok that you’ve never done anything worthwhile, you will someday.”

Hearing that year after year from people whose opinion you value is corrosive. It can make it really, really hard to see that you’ve ever done anything or that you have any abilities that count.

But, everyone in this world has accomplished things that are worth noticing. You are not an exception. You have done things, and the things that you have done matter. Even if nothing you do has radically changed the world. Even if you haven’t out-competed anyone. Even if you’re far below grade level, or unemployable, or struggling greatly. Even if you can’t get out of bed most days or at all. You have done things, and you deserve to have them respected.

If you are working with, supporting, or close to someone with a disability, make sure you are acknowledging their accomplishments that they have already made. Don’t just reassure them that they will do things some day. They have already done things, and they deserve to have their accomplishments respected.

And if you are a disabled person, remember that your accomplishments are real even if no one notices them or takes them seriously. The people who have taught you not to value your accomplishments are wrong. You have done things. Honor them.