Gary Haugen: Joy is the Oxygen

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Discussion Questions for Andrew Solomon: The Stories of Who We Are

Click here to listen to Kate’s conversation with Andrew Solomon.

Click here to download these discussion questions as a PDF. 

1. Andrew Solomon is an author, lecturer, and activist who has written about what it’s like to be different from your family. What is something about you—small or significant—that sticks out as strange in the family that raised you? 

2. Kate and Andrew both know what it’s like to feel like your difference is a problem to be solved. Kate, as a cancer person. Andrew, as a gay person. Can you tell a story about a time when you felt this way? How did you respond? How do you wish others had responded to you? 

3. Andrew distinguishes between vertical and horizontal identities. Vertical identities are passed down generationally from parent to child. Horizontal identities are learned from a peer group. Often people draw on peer relationships when they have an identity—like deafness, dwarfism, or autism—that is not shared with or understood by their family. What’s one horizontal identity that shapes you? How have peers helped you make sense of it?

4. “I feel like all of parenting involves making a determination about what aspects of your child you’re going to change and what aspects of your child you’re going to accept and celebrate,” Andrew says. Think of a child in your life. What’s something about them you’ve wrestled with whether to change or accept? What insight has come to you along the way? 

5. Andrew describes chosen family as the people who are looking in the mirror from the same vantage point as you. Using this image, who is your chosen family? What do you see when you look in the mirror?

6. In many ways, Andrew says, disability is a construct. While some conditions are debilitating, many others are not as dark as we presume them to be. For instance, he tells the story of a village in Bali where deafness is not as much of a disability because everybody knows sign language. Do you agree with Andrew? What experiences have shaped your opinion about what is a disability and what is not?

7. Andrew shares about a dwarf who went to her first Little People of America conference and was no longer defined by her most obvious label. She felt both seen and able to disappear. What is your most obvious label? When, if ever, have you been able to both embody and transcend it?

8. A study that Andrew likes to quote found that parents who anticipate finding meaning in their child’s differences or disabilities have far better outcomes on every possible clinical measure than those who do not. Why do you think meaning making makes a difference?

9. After Andrew became a parent, he found particular ecstasy in ordinary joys because he didn’t expect those joys to be ordinary to him. (As another example of this, he describes a mother who never thought she’d get the pleasure of worrying about her son with diastrophic dwarfism drinking at the bar.) What ordinary joys did you not expect to experience in your lifetime? How do you savor them?

10. “Love is unlimited, but we are not,” Kate says at the end of this episode. Who in you life needs to hear this—maybe even you? How will you tell them?

Bonus: After listening to this week’s podcast, what part of Kate and Andrew’s conversation resonated with you most? What insight will you carry with you? 

Discussion Questions written by author, editor, and facilitator Erin S. Lane.

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