Erin Kelly examines Chris Hayden’s recent decision to publicly reveal the fact he has a disability, despite being US Senator Kay Hagan’s press secretary.
Human emotion is as natural as the wind. It’s quite possibly one of the purest things in the world, because it can be viciously real and raw at any given moment. The fact that there are so many emotions for us to express often makes it difficult to know which ones to display publicly—and which ones to keep private.
This holds true for anyone—whether you’re a tax collector or a painter. The individual journeys that life takes us on dictate which parts of ourselves are easiest to expose. By the same token, the way in which you show that emotion can be more powerful than anything the human soul has ever felt.
When you’re in the public eye, however, you can’t necessarily control what people know or don’t know about you. I think it’s even more difficult to be public and “in the moment” when there’s something about yourself that’s out of the norm or inadvertently becomes a part of you—especially something as present as a disability.
Such is the case for Chris Hayden, press secretary for current United States Senator Kay Hagan.
Hayden—who was born without his right arm and also has a truncated left arm—recently opened up about his little-known disability in an interview with Time Warner Cable News in Charlotte, North Carolina.
According to a short piece that accompanied the interview, Hayden assists Hagan with the daily operations and responsibilities that come with being a US Senator, but is rarely noted or seen by the public.
In fact, the recent article calls Hagan one of the “most closely watched” political figures in the nation—but also states that the people who work “behind–the-scenes” in politics are seldom in the spotlight.
Chris’ story is an exception to that rule. According to the Oct. 20 report, the 26-year-old’s disability—along with advice from his parents—prepared him for his venture into the political arena.
“Growing up, my parents were very realistic about what I could do. They said, ‘Chris, [we] don’t think manual labor is really in your future, so the education you get [in politics] is really important.’”
Some may take that as harsh, perhaps even discouraging advice. Any other 26-year-old most likely would have. However, I think there’s a point in everyone’s existence—whether they’re disabled or not—where they say,
“OK, this is my life. This is what I have to contend with. I don’t like it, but I’m not going to just sit here and do nothing.”
I also think people eventually come to the realization that they can’t change everything, let alone certain things about their lives. Not only that, but they come to grips with the fact they can’t bring back certain people or things they once had in their world. So, they choose to do something with whatever skills or tools they have.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Chris came to those crossroads in his life. He’s showing that he indeed has just by telling his story, despite the very public position he’s in professionally. His story is not only being told, but he’s living proof that anything is possible when you focus on your strengths instead of your weaknesses.
While Chris didn’t mention why he waited to openly discuss his disability, Kay went on record as saying his weaknesses weren’t a factor in her decision to bring him onboard as her press secretary:
“He was highly intelligent, he was motivated and he was smart. He understood the issues [that we were dealing with.]”
There’s no doubt this is a success story at its core, but I think it’s just as much a story about bravery as well. Chris was courageous enough to turn his biggest weakness into a strength. He had to have known somewhere along the line that this was going to garner a fair amount of attention—and perhaps even raise some concerns about how and why he chose to disclose news of his disability at this particular point in his career.
Even so, he’s still getting attention and being recognized. I don’t think it’s because of the simple fact he has a disability; I think it’s due to the empowerment of the message he’s sending to everyone who takes time to read about his journey.
Whatever Chris’ reasoning was behind keeping his disability private until now, he put an exclamation point on everything when he said this:
“I think my brain works a little differently because I have to problem-solve a little differently than everyone else does. There are a lot of disabilities you can’t see, and since mine is one you can see, it’s important to talk about it, answer questions and be there as a resource for other people.”