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Extending your knowledge: Discussions of a good life

In this video, the team for the "Thinking through Disability" online course reflects on the question "what is a good life?"
MAN: FutureLearn. [THEME MUSIC] UNSW Australia. What is a good life? Part two.
LOUISA: And it’s important I think that we’ve used the— that we’ve used “a” instead of “the” good life. Because we’re not saying exactly what “the” good life is. That would be really confining it. A good life can be much more subjective, I hope, in our understanding. So Rosemary, if we could come, I mean, everyone could probably talk about this, but what are some of the problems, do you think, about this concept of a good life? What are some of the issues, and everyone can talk to this, not just Rosemary.
ROSEMARY: I suppose for me it’s whether you think about— What is a good life? So if you go, well, is your life good? What is it about your life that is good, and what is it about my life that I think is good?
You can think of it in the negative, so what is it about my life that is good because it’s not there? I’m free from violence. I’m free from abuse.
I’m free from poverty.
I’m free from the— I mean truly, I’m free from the dictates of somebody else in terms of my life. So, yeah, I suppose I could evaluate it that way.
LOUISA: I think good is very— it’s obviously very value laden. As soon as we talk about good, we’re talking about certain— we can easily attach it to certain norms, I think, in society. So that good means— working, is often an association that people make, and that we can attach these things to it quite easily. So one of the reasons that I wanted you to think about it in your own life is the sun on the skin kind of answers, where we think about it in a more embodied way. But I think there is that risk that we start associating good with “normal” as well.
JOS: Yeah, and I think, in fact, that was one of the reasons we decided that we would use the idea of a good life as something to start from, because part of it was about saying there are kind of common sense understandings of a good life, which probably are connected to aspiring to have a lot of money and a big house— I’m not sure there are people who really— but there is a set of things connected to it, which are about a very conventional life in a wealthy society and that actually by looking at and thinking around disability, you could kind of be challenging that. You could actually be saying, maybe we can have different ideas about a good life.
Maybe we can recover ideas that can get forgotten in capitalist societies, really.
JORDANNA: Yeah, I think you’re right, particularly in relation to people with disabilities. I think that people with disabilities, one of the main things for us is access. And I know that for me, as a Deaf person, access enables me to have a good life. And without access, I would be quite isolated, so, yeah.
JOS: Yeah, exactly.
ROSEMARY: Yeah, I mean I have a good life. I’ve also got a frustrating life.
STEVE: Me too.
For me, I think more being respected. Because three years ago, four to three years ago, I never felt comfortable with myself, because I always felt like I wasn’t living as my true identity. And that, for me, was a really big thing, because even though to other people it seemed like I was really happy, but for me, I was really depressed and I didn’t have a good life. It didn’t feel like I was living my full self. Whereas now, I feel happier. I’m a little quieter, but I feel happier.
So, that’s a good life for me.
ARAHNI: It was interesting, in the room, because there’s a lot of academics here, and there was quite a strong theme around freedom, and learning. And that’s what you have in your life, really, I believe, looking on. But I just wanted to say, about the good life, that you chose the word good because— you didn’t use the word towards a “happy” life. And good doesn’t necessarily— where does happy come into good?
So I lived for 10 years in Africa, in the second poorest country in the world, in Mozambique, the second poorest country in the world. So levels of poverty everywhere. Everyone’s really poor, like $10 a day or something. But my staff and the people everywhere, the Mozambicans, just happy, joyous. Music, lots of drumming, lots of music, lots of dance, lots of connecting, getting together, just vibrant. And the colour. A good life— yeah, they wanted more and there’s an emerging middle class there. But their idea of a good life might just be having fish one day a week, or having the kids go to school for the first time ever. You know, like getting past sixth grade.
And it was wonderful, anyway sorry. Just expectations are different from where we are coming from. And as you were saying about a big house or a big car in a modern society, yeah, I really was humbled by what I saw there.
LEANNE: One of the things I’ve been thinking about is when you look at how we go about trying to create a good life, or even an ordinary life, Kelly already raised the issue around policy, government policy. Human rights, in fact, international human rights, they almost are, to me, an attempt to sort of codify what an ordinary or basic set of things are. And that is sort of, in some ways, how I think about is that, what’s the foundation of a life that would enable someone to have a good life?
And I think there are things that we’ve seen that have been codified in those international ideas about people being free from abuse and neglect and have the rights to do certain things and to make choices. And again, I started to think, when using the term, those hollow words— and I think Karen has written about this a bit— about how you start to conceptualise what those things really are in terms of what do rights mean. And to my way of thinking, to sort of try and work all of these ideas that we are trying to deal with in the MOOCs a little bit, about what do rights mean for people? What does access mean?
Is it a mechanism or is it a— I think there’s a real connection between what we do to try and ensure a good life, and, in fact, I think we don’t do very much to ensure that. I think what we do mostly is we do things to ensure an ordinary life. And to me that’s where those two things become quite usefully different is that if the lowest common denominator of government policy around disability is to ensure people have access to the things they need to live an ordinary life.
KAREN: So it takes how those external pressures can actually take away from you the possibility to develop your own path of what a good life may be.
KELLEY: And maybe that’s one of the differences between an ordinary life and a good life. Because I think a good life is very much about what I want and how I see my life. An ordinary life you can provide, you can get, maybe. A house or somewhere to live. You can feel reasonably safe. You can get a job, even if it’s part time. But it’s not necessarily a good life.
JOS: Especially because my background is from architecture, there’s been a lot of work about the fact that we have what’s considered an ordinary, good environment, a normal environment, an ordinary, a good one, is still an environment designed around non-disabled people. So what constitutes good, what constitutes ordinary are still around the terms of what it is to not have a disability. And so then, if you have a disability, what happens is you get a whole series of add-ons, what some people call retrofitting. So basically you’ve already built all this stuff, and then at the end of it, somebody says, oh, by the way, we need a ramp or an induction loop or— So those things are important.
They become very important, because without them access is really, really reduced. But they have been added in order to make a good life, or an ordinary life for people with disabilities. They’re added on to what those things were originally. They’re not there from the start. They’re not part of re-imagining how you might have built buildings or services or access to resources that start from diversity. I suppose that’s the most interesting thing for me, is how you might use terms like “a good life” to open that all up, to really challenge those kinds of understandings.
ROSEMARY: But that comes back to what I was trying to say about— disability doesn’t still factor at the design stage. It’s not seen as part of the fabric of society, and it has to be included. And so it gets to that deep sense of belonging.
And I just want to say something to what Leanne put forward about people that can’t communicate, their will and preference. I think that’s the importance of having true, trusting, loving relationships. Because a person will always have a response to stimulus of some sort. And it’s through those loving, trusting relationships that people will know and understand what those reactions to stimulus are about, and know that the person likes hot or cold or likes a breeze or likes the salty air or likes music or silence or— And if that is the domain of their experience, then they should be able to experience the good ones for them.
LOUISA: Thank you so much everyone. That was such a smooth running discussion.
KELLEY: We’re terrific, aren’t we? (Laughter)
LOUISA: Not at all stressful or nerve-racking for me.

In this step, the course team discusses our various responses to the question “what is a good life?” that you saw in Step 1.4: What a good life means for us.

Some of the topics discussed in this video include:

  • the difference between “a good life” and “the good life”;
  • the fact that the term “a good life” will have different meanings for different people;
  • the differences between a good life and an ordinary life;
  • the importance of access and social inclusion;
  • the importance of relationships.

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Disability and a Good Life: Thinking through Disability

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