Friday, May 21, 2010

Real Life, Real Lessons

Several of you sharp eyed readers sent me a link to the story about the television programme What Would You Do. It's a reality style programme wherein situations are set up and scripted, actors play their parts pretending to be everyday citizens and the cameras catch the reaction of people in the area. It's kind of like a sociological version of the old show Candid Camera. The episode that people wrote to me about was set in a grocery store that had employed a bagger with Down Syndrome (played by an actor with Down Syndrome) who is berated and verbally abused by a customer who calls him names, makes derogatory comments about who he is and how he does his work.

They make a point about how most people simply didn't do anything, though when interviewed later they all recognized the inappropriateness of the verbal language used in reference to the bagger with Down Syndrome. After several customers did nothing a customer named Linda Tapia took on the abuser and spoke her mind. They celebrate, as do I but less loudly, the courage of Ms Tapia in speaking up. I do not disagree, I applaud the fact that she had the moral backbone to speak up and let her voice be heard, her defense of the bagger was powerful and eloquent.

So the show demonstrates that people with disabilities really can't rely on the kindness of strangers. It wants to encourage people to speak up in similar circumstances. I can't argue with that either.

But I think there is much more to learn about society and about our joint responsibilities as parents and care providers than they seem to understand. In fact, I think the show is built on a faulty premise. They seem to think that a motivated public can rise in protection of those needing protection. I'd like to believe that's true. Not for disabled people alone, but for anyone being victimized or abused. It would be nice if the voice of the majority of good people would rise in complaint when a woman is treated dismissively by a patriarchal boss, a child is victimized by hateful words from an angry mother ... the list here is long.

But that's not going to happen.

So what do we need to learn from this?

Since the 'kindness of strangers' is no strategy for a sane person to approach dangerous situations, situations of abuse, situations of prejudice and intolerance. Then we need to think of doing something radical. We have to ensure that people like that bagger, know what to do in the face of bullying. We have to ensure that people with disabilities UNERSTAND the nature of prejudice and UNDERSTAND that they are not at fault for their treatment at the hands of bigots. There needs to be a joint 'aha' wherein we begin to do real training regarding living in the real community.

The community is comprised of wonderful people, but we know that wonderful people can be silent. So we need training so that baggers know how to say, 'You are being disrespectful, stop it.' If the woman goes ballistic, then the bagger needs to know who to report it to and how to make the situation clear.

Even the smallest baby with Down Syndrome is born with a backbone. As we teach and parent that child, we should also be giving them opportuntity to use that backbone to stand straight, to stand tall, to look bigots in the face and call them on it.

It's wonderful that Linda Tapia was there.

But it would be terrific if, in the real world, people with disabilities didn't need her quite so very much.


ivanova said...

I saw a different episode of that show, one in which an actor playing an a-hole harasses two actors playing a gay couple in a bar. In that episode, some people came to the defense of the gay couple and were praised. I thought that the people who spoke up were pretty cool but the whole concept of the show left a weird taste in my mouth, for similar reasons to what you outlined.

I am part of a group called Young Adult Authors Against Bullying and I get to read about different anti-bullying ideas that groups are trying. What I notice is that some of the anti-bullying initiatives focus on the "victims," like you do, Dave, and try to create safe spaces and teach strategies to deal with bullies. And then others try to encourage kids not to be bullies. For example, there's one called Roots of Empathy that brings babies into young kids' classrooms and encourages the kids to think about the babies' needs and see things from someone else's POV and be more sensitive overall. So I guess "What Would You Do" is a version of that for grown-ups, to encourage them not to be bullies or bystanders. All that stuff is positive, and I'm not knocking it. But I think the most important thing is to help vulnerable people learn to cope with bullying and feel good about themselves and know how to get what they need.

Kate said...

It's funny that you should post this tonight, because the episode of All in the Family they played today was about a MR guy who worked as bagger in a grocery store, and was fired when Archie kept him too long...may or may not be relevant butI was thinking about the topic. I also watched riding the bus with my sister tonight on hallmark. did you ever see that? it's great, and so is the book.

Dad said...

I take what I consider to be a very Ghandi approach to Bullying, especially from people employed to "Manage Me."

I have many times tried the, excuse me you are incorrect and been accused of being difficult and adversarial.

I have tried supplying as much information as I possibly can to help people, which results in it being said that I downloaded lots of information and supplied it to my file and from there it permiated and influenced qualified expert reports.

I have tried withdrawing as far as possible from any interactions with perceived bullies, which seemingly makes them even more vindictive.

Most interesting is to sit back and see just how far they will go if you ignore them completely.

And they will go "FAR!"
I have always thought hat even if it takes 50 years they must eventually Get their beans, karma will catch up with them!
Such is yet to happen but looking back it has been one hell of a ride.

MC Mobility said...

That show always gets my blood boiling. My Dad always refers to himself as "the last boyscout", meaning that he feels a moral imperative to right every wrong, fight every fight, chase down every idiot who cuts him off in traffic. I have, unfortunately at times, inherited this overdeveloped sense of justice. However, I am a 140 lb female, whereas my dad is a 300 lb former linebacker with a black belt in Aikido. So needless to say, I can't exactly go around confronting every psychopath that does something insensitive....even though I REALLY REALLY want to.

I agree with you Dave that there is a two pronged approach that needs to be happening here. My husband and I have a 9 month old daughter. She has a hemangioma right in between her eye and her nose. We have had to endure the most ridiculously insensitive remarks since it showed up at about 2 weeks old. "WHAT happened to your kid's face???"

Even when the hemangioma is long gone (hopefully before she starts kindergarten, but maybe not), our daughter is also half Asian American and half Caucasian. As her mother, I worry about how her being bi-racial will affect her. Have we come far enough that her peers will not even acknowledge it? Are there still bigoted parents out there raising little bigots who will pick on and torment my child the way her father was tormented?

Obviously we can't protect our baby girl forever. So we have decided that if nothing else, we want to instill in her two things. 1) That she be the kind of young lady who will stand up for herself. And 2) that she will be the kind of young lady who will stand up for others when they are being mistreated.

Imagine the kind of world we would live in if every parent made those two things their solemn mission. Here's hoping...

FridaWrites said...

When people haven't been taught to speak up for themselves yet, I have no hesitation to speak up for them. One strategy is to talk to the victim directly rather than to the bully to get person out of the situation.

MC, one of my friend's babies had a hemangioma--I empathize with you since I've seen all the questions.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, man.

Tara said...

You know, it's interesting. This video has gone almost viral in the Down syndrome community and yet, of all the blogs I've read where this is the topic, yours is the first to point out the obvious. We need to teach our kids to command respect, regardless of their disability, to speak up for themselves and not have to rely on strangers to do it for them. As the mom of a 15 mos.-old son with Down syndrome, I intend to do that very thing...although with five older siblings, I think he just may come by it naturally. :)

Bertie said...

great words of wisdom you have here Dave.....i so enjoy this blog but have never been able to figure out how to leave a comment until tonight - so thanks for all the past ones i wanted to respond too also !!!!

amy flege said...

you are sooo right! :)

Anonymous said...

Good point on giving people with disabilities the skills to stand up for themselves. Inclusion is also key though; the more people who are involved in everyday interactions with people with disabilities, the better chance they will not see it as something to be made fun of. I still see a lot of discrimination though - I work with adults with disabilities and I have been in situations where people have moved seats in movie theatres away from us, talked down to, etc. I also have a son with Down syndrome and I'm hoping that by the time he is an adult we might have more understanding and inclusion in all aspects of life.