You're wondering now how I could be friends with someone like that. Well, there are other aspects of our friendship that I enjoy. And besides, everyone I know does this about something, "Really, you like that song?" "Don't tell me that you actually watch the Young and the Restless." "Please don't call murder mysteries, literature." Everyone has an opinion on everything, and everyone seems mightily convinced of the rightness of their opinion.
Even me. Kraft Peanut Butter is the only really good peanut butter. You eat ... what?
Most of us have the ability to stand up to these little daily assaults on our self esteem, our tastes, our choices. We've learned to like what we like and be damned the rest of you. But, for me this was a lesson tough to learn and a way of living that's tough to maintain ... ergo, my capitulation on choice of movie to my friend.
I thought of all this when I was talking to a group of staff about the issue of 'choice' in the life of people with intellectual disability. It came clear to me that 'choice' could only be made where there was both self-esteem and assertiveness. I saw a definition of choice for people with disabilities that helped me think this through. Choice is uncoerced selection.
Most agencies are concerned about the opportunity for an increased number of 'selections' but have not put much emphasis on the 'uncoerced' part. There is only choice where there is no fear of punishment. Where there is safety to select. Where there the word 'REALLY' as in, "Do you REALLY want dessert?" "Do you REALLY want to buy that blouse?" does not exist.
For the last year and a bit, I've been working on discovering changes that agencies and families can make in order to increase safety from abuse - physical and sexual. But now I understand that the job is bigger than that - it's the reduction of coercion and the increase of assertion. It's working towards a service wherein we eliminate the little sins as well as the big ones. It's teaching people to stand up to us when we slip up and try to suggest that 'Sound of Music' for the 10,000th time isn't a choice that should be made.
I heard a sermon once about how many people are self satisfied and convinced of their righteousness because they don't commit the big sins, murder, adultery, worshiping golden idols, larceny, perjury and the like. But, the minister continued, what about the little sins. Stealing pens from work, undermining someone's character with snide remarks, not bothering to visit someone in the hospital because you're 'busy'. It's the little sins, he said, that clog up the soul - not getting through the day without committing murder.
This stikes me as important now as I think about this. I know, without question that I have used tone of voice and my personal status combined to get someone with a disability to agree to the 'right' choice. All without realizing that if there is a right and a wrong there is no 'choice'. I know that I have used subtle coercion - because I could, because I wanted to, because I didn't see it as important. And I'd go home feeling like a great staff because I didn't commit the big sins of abuse.
I have decided to tell my friend the next time he says that it's my turn to choose the movie ... that choice means uncoerced selection and that means that whatever I choose, he's gotta just say, 'Great let's go.'
And the next time I eat Kraft peanut butter I hope my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth - keeping me silent when you tell me you like Jiff.