The Dignity of our Limits – reflections from attending a public lecture by Stephanie Kate Judd (Barker class of 2007) on her research as an Anglican Deaconess Fellow in 2021.
On Tuesday 8 February I had the privilege of tuning in to a public lecture that represented the culmination of a year of Stephanie Kate Judd’s research, writing and publishing around human value and dignity, especially when human limits such as disabilities appear to impact human flourishing (Judd, 2022).
Young people, especially those at schools like Barker, can be trained to see that any difficulty can be overcome through effort, practice and willpower. While these attributes are certainly necessary for developing resilience and for learning; there are constraints of physical limits like the need for sleep and rest that cannot be ignored, even sickness and disability that cannot always be overcome. Judd calls us to consider how these curtailers of choice or obstructors of control, are actually inherent to our humanity (Williams, 2018) and therefore understanding the limits, and “going with the grain” of these limits leads to deeper and richer human flourishing and thriving (McPherson, 2022).
While my physical disability has brought me a lot of grief and pain it has also taught me a lot about living in, and paying attentive and respectful attention to, a body that is fundamentally limited.
Judd proposes a juxtaposition of philosophical attitudes, expressive individualism and embedded relationality. The former requires seeking choice and control over life circumstances and the latter is where the autonomous self is not at the centre. From the position of embedded relationality, life is not about ensuring unencumbered choice but rather life is to be accepted and appreciated as a gift. To her, recognising that her identity (both mind and body) is a gift given rather than self-made means that “Who I am is not defined by what I can do or achieve, it’s anchored in who I’m loved by” (including both love from other humans, but also divine love “which is constant and abundant and eternal and secure”).
We don’t dictate the terms of our life by fiat; we respond to what we’ve been given.
Last September, as part of Barker’s celebration of R U OK? Day, the Barker Institute hosted an interview with academic, educator, and author Dr Kerry Howells (Hill, 2021). She spoke about her new book Untangling You; How can I be grateful when I feel so resentful? Her research findings from 25 years of experience and study presented a view consistent with Judd’s, arguing that an “attitude of gratitude” is necessary for thriving in our interconnected, uncontrollable, relational world.
Judd concluded her lecture by reflecting on the consequences of our embeddedness in relationships with each other. She explains that our boundaries and limits are positive opportunities for interdependence, meaning flourishing is not reached by expressive individualism, rather “wholeness can only come to us through others”. The communities available to young people in schools present opportunities for vulnerability and interdependence, for character development and gratitude. It is a blessing that we can be back together for the start of the 2022 year because as Judd reminds us “you cannot cultivate character in isolation”.
The full lecture can be accessed on YouTube, contact the Barker Institute for details.
Hill, M., 2021. Untangling You & Gratitude - Dr Kerry Howells. Bark. Inst. URL https://www.barkerinstitute.com.au/our-news-resources/2021/untangling-you-gratitude-dr-kerry-howells (accessed 2.14.22).
Judd, S.K., 2022. The Dignity of Our Limits.
McPherson, D., 2022. The Virtues of Limits. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Williams, R., 2018. Being Human: Bodies, Minds, Persons. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.