Sunday, June 10, 2007

number 17

"I don't know how to stop abuse in agencies serving people with disabilities," Sobsey said in his workshop in Toronto on that issue. "But I have some ideas for things we can do," he continued. Then he gave just over 50 ideas for what we as individuals can do to make it less likely that abuse will happen.

As I had his powerpoint presentation photocopied and tucked away in the bag on the back of my wheelchair, I could just sit back and listen, think and then absorb what he was saying. I'd already had several 'ah ha' moments when the powerpoint projector moved to Sobsey's point number 17. When it appeared on the screen, my mind read it and read it and read it again. Before he said a word about what was written there I was taking in the huge implication of those words.

"The single most important thing that each of us can do is control our own behaviour."

Luckily Sobsey has a low key way of presenting his material because much of it would knock an audience reeling if he pitched too hard. This section of his presentation asked each of us, as I ask you now, to understand that every single one of us has moods and moments, thoughts and impulses that given free reign could turn us into an abuser.

The difference between an abuser and a non-abuser is not how we think or feel, it's that non-abusers manage to control their urges, stifle those moments. Thinking about slapping someone is not crossing the line, slapping someone is. If we want to stop abuse we begin first with ourselves. We begin by examining who we are, how we think, and learn to begin to reshape our natural impulses, to guard against those moments when we are angered or overwhelmed.

The end of abuse is located in our own mind our own body.

This is powerful stuff.

This is hopeful stuff.

This is difficult stuff.

After the presentation, Joe and I drove Dr. Sobsey to the airport and as luck would have it we were flying out at about the same time. Dick was flying to Edmonton and we were flying to Calgary. Our flights were to take off from adjoining gates. We had several hours more to simply chat and have dinner.

When we arrived in Calgary, I waited in the baggage area as Joe went off to secure the rental car. I was pushing myself by the baggage carousels - by the by, Calgary has one of the nicest airports in North America and even the baggage area is cool - headed towards where Joe and I would meet. A man approached with an odd gait and a big, big smile. As he saw me he gave a big wave. At first I thought we knew each other and that he had recognized me. This does happen, in Toronto waiting for our flight I ran into a woman who had heard me present in British Columbia.

I was about to wave back when I got it. He didn't recognize me. He was ... um ... odd. When I was close enough I did my quick assessment. Disabled or 'slightly off' and in an instant I could see that he was 'not quite like' everyone else but that he didn't have a disability. Inwardly I groaned, cast my eyes away and wished that I wasn't a magnet for 'those kind of people.'

Suddenly, instantaneously, I remembered ...

"The single most important thing that each of us can do is control our own behaviour."

I forced my eyes back and picked up my hand, I couldn't believe the struggle that was going on between mind and body, and waved back. My lips formed into a smile. His smile broadened at the acknowledgement and walked on by.

I didn't hurt that man yesterday.

Because I controled myself.

What power.


ostertaga said...

That post really touched my middle son looks typical, looks average..but has mental illness. Sometimes I wished he had some defining feature that would help people to understand why he acts so "off" at times..some outward indication that his brain doesn't function the same as many other kids around him. Some way to warn remind them to show an extra bit of kindness and tolerance and acceptance his way when he is melting down in rage..instead of looking with disdain, disgust, casting aspersion by their faces at my "parenting", labeling it a "moral" issue.

Sometimes I wish there was someone around who would "wave back" at him..or the middle of it all.

It can be so lonely.


Ada said...

Was the man at the airport wearing traditional western wear? He could just be one of the hundreds of volunteers there to greet weary travelers. Did you catch the Pride Parade?

lina said...

Yes, in much the same way a friend of mine challenged me recently - and showed me how my behaviour was contributing to discrimination. By walking past and averting my eyes - I was one of those people who was treating people like they were invivisible and didn't matter. so thankfully, a good friend will tell you the truth. I won't avert my eyes difficult as it sometimes is..and I will not contribute to making people feel invisible.