Our CEO, Natalie Moran, recently talked about why Simon on the Streets doesn’t record or photograph the people we support. It’s all about protecting our clients’ dignity. We won’t photograph people when they’re at their worst in terms of vulnerability.
We also never pressure our clients or staff with lived experience to talk about their experience in front of others.
Too often, I’ve seen clients and professionals with lived experience rolled out in a room full of people to talk about their experience of life on the streets. Lauding this as involving clients in co-production is misguided at best.
Let’s not “out” others.
It should be up to the client or employee to choose if, and when, they let others know about their lived experience. A chair of a meeting shouldn’t turn up, point out someone they know has lived experience and ask them to speak about it (something I’ve unfortunately seen happen!). Disclosing someone’s lived experience takes the decision of whether to disclose this information away from them.
We need to use empathy.
When it comes to asking others to talk about their lived experience, we need to use empathy. You may think asking someone to speak about their lived experience in front of others is okay, but let’s look at this another way. Would you ask a friend to talk about their darkest hours in front of a room full of people? Of course, the answer is no. So, why does the same thing not apply to your employees and clients?
Asking someone to talk about their lived experience can be incredibly damaging. You’re asking that person to re-live their trauma, and to talk about it in front of people they may not know, their peers and potentially their managers and leaders. It might not be something they’re comfortable with.
Ask yourself, who does it benefit?
I urge you to take a minute and think about who really benefits from forcing others to talk about their experience in front of others. It’s not the person with lived experience. They don’t need others to hear their story, only to have others tell them their story is sad, or inspiring. If you’re doing this to validate the work of your organization, then it’s not needed. Please don’t use my lived experience to get that validation.
My lived experience is exactly that, my own. It should be my own decision as to whether I disclose it to others. And it should be mine to use my own way.