Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Please Stop

Falsely attributing qualities or behaviours based on an unrelated fact or feature about a person annoys me. (It took me a long time to write that sentence.) It really does. Perhaps it even fits into the 'pet peeve' category. Let me give an example:

I was at church listening to a sermon on 'non-violent protest' that was given, at least partly, because of the violent outbursts in Toronto during the G20 summit. The sermon was well thought out and well preached. The minister took care with her research and made global connections to what had happened here locally. I enjoyed it. I learned from it.

Afterwards in the church hall, I relaxed with a cup of green tea. The minister, after having shook the hands of those departing the front of the church, came to the hall for more of the 'meet and greet' that is the stuff of her job. When she came to me, I introduced myself as I am not a regular member of that church. I told her I liked her sermon and her face looked like what I imagine my face looks like when given a similar compliment.

Then I launched into a 'Show and Tell' pulling out the 'Words Hit' cards, both the LGBT and regular version of the card. I explained about the issue of the 'R' word and how we were working to eradicate the word. She said all the right things about the word, explained how it was that she came to be of the opinion that the word is the social equivalent of other hateful words used to target other minorities.

Then she said, 'I can't imagine that any intelligent person still uses that word.' I bristled but said nothing. After all, in this moment I was the preacher and I wanted the message to get across to her. She asked for the cards and I gave her some of each. She thanked me and was on her way.

Why did I bristle?

I don't like it when people attribute to 'intelligence' attributes of kindness and fair play and compassion and grace and good will. It's just eugenics in soft colours. It's assuming that those gifted with intelligence are better, purer, citizens and therefore, unspoken, is the message that the dumber you are, the coarser you are. There is a belief that those with less intelligence are those who are less likely to be citizens and more likely to be criminals.

The fact that someone doesn't use language that hurts doesn't make them intelligent, it makes them kind. The fact that someone doesn't seek out to hurt those who are vulnerable doesn't make them smart, it makes them moral. The fact that someone considers the feelings of others doesn't make them clever, it makes them compassionate. It's about action, 'I do' is more important than 'IQ'

So stop it.

Some of the nastiest people I've ever met have been full of intelligence. Some of the most devious, the most dishonest, the most vile people I've ever met had lots of letters after their name. Intelligence IS NOT THE SAME as moral. It can be, maybe often is, but there isn't a direct correlation.

I didn't say anything then, because it would have turned the discussion in a direction I didn't want to go ... and besides, I have a blog where I can rant.

26 comments:

Belinda said...

Intelligence is an interesting concept. Emotional intelligence is far more valuable than IQ I think. This post gives me way too much to think about at 12.32 a.m. I'm first with a comment but I can't think straight enough to make sense! :)

Susan said...

And a very good rant, too.

I catch myself saying things like that sometimes. I don't like it. I bristle myself when I hear words like "dumb" and "stupid", and "bright" and "intelligent" come off my own lips. Sometimes I hear them in time to stop them, and other times, they are out and gone before I have a chance to catch them back.

Why do I wax eloquent about what one of my grandsons may have verbalised this week? So what? What I should be concerned about is, "did he treat his brothers and playmates with respect?" "Did he learn anything which will help him to be a kinder and more compassionate human being?" Now that would be something to brag about.

Thanks for writing this, Dave. Words and how we use them are so important - and often very telling of what we truly think, despite our politically corrrect surfaces.

I'm glad you wrote this...

Stephanie said...

ONce more - you said it better than I ever could have. And this was timely too!

Tonight, I had to go pay a bill and was driving up the street (we live on a busy street). We have new neighbors moving in across the street, so of course everybody is trying to be nosey...ahem.....

Anyway, I was driving by and was going to wave at the folks - "Welcome to the neighborhood" like. When all of the sudden, this guy comes charging out at my van like a rabid dog protecting his turf.

"Wassamatta?!? You never seen Little People before??!?!" he screamed. "Move on down the road, the circus act is over!!!"

I was a bit taken aback, then angry. The old me would have gotten out & laid this guy out cold. I took a deep breath and rolled down the window...

I said, "First, I was just going to welcome you to the neighborhood. One thing you need to know about me is that I don't judge people on appearances, race, religion, or who they sleep with. I have a son with Down syndrome & know how hurtful people can be.

Now that is out of the way, I want to thank you for your little display. In no time at all, you just taught me 3 very important lessons: 1. Assholes come in all shapes & sizes, 2. Even those with different abilites/disabilites have thier prejudices and can be as close minded as the "typicals" 3. You are a shining example to my son of how NOT to use your difference/disability for the sake of entitlement - just because you are a Little Person does not entitle you to respect - you earn it the same as everybody else."

"I fight on a daily basis to have others give my son the same chances they give "typical" people. That is all I ask, for the opportunity. Behaviour such as yours is one reason why it doesn't happen. It's too bad you shut people down before they ever get a chance to know you. Good luck with your move."

I rolled up my window & drove away. As I did, I saw his wife deck him right there on the sidewalk!!! LOL!

My point is, it is not just intellegence. You would think that people who have been discriminated against for their entire lives wold be a bit more open-minded. I am sorry for what ever has made that man so hateful.

Steph

theknapper said...

I agree with you Dave....what I've learned in life is that intelligence doesn't make you a better person, doesn't guarantee you'll be happier or that you won't be in an abusive relationship. It actually can be its own kind of disability because people think it will protect them from bad things and often it does not.

OhWheely . . said...

I have been guilty of the charges you describe and never stopped to think about it.
You are right. Any persons level of intelligence is no good indicator of kindness, morals or criminality and I will try to change.
No disrespect was ever intended but that is no excuse for my ignorance.
Thank you for writing this.

Andrea S. said...

Steph,

I get why you were upset. But to be frank, I don't think you're being entirely fair to that man. It sounds like you caught him at a bad time, when he must have already experienced a long line of people staring at him and his family and otherwise being rude because of their size. And now here comes along ANOTHER person who is ALSO looking at them. When you're already feeling a little attacked, I think it's only natural to have difficulty telling the difference between a person staring at you because they're rude and a person looking at you in ordinary friendliness. It's nothing to do with HIS discrimination toward others. It's a reaction TO discrimination TOWARDS HIM. I think his reaction was understandable. I think your reaction is a reflection of your privileged position as a person who does not personally experience disability (except at one remove via your son) and does not discrimination at the same level as some other people do.

A better response might have been to gently apologize for giving the impression that you were staring, and THEN gently explain that you had only meant to welcome them to the neighborhood. Then you could have said something like, "I can understand why you thought I was staring. I guess you must get that a lot. It's awful how rude some people can be, huh? I have a son with Down's Syndrome and sometimes people behave in rude ways toward my family because of that too."

If a person has been emotionally battered with the blows of discrimination for a long time and then flinches because someone makes a motion that looks very much like it's going to become another blow -- THAT IS NOT DISCRIMINATION toward the person who makes that motion. That's a natural, human, learned, REFLEX forged by repeat traumatization. Please learn the difference. Because, news flash: sometimes it has NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU.

Anonymous said...

you are absolutely, totally, completely and unequivocally right. If I ever meet you I think I would be incapable of speaking for fear of saying the wrong thing and winding up the subject of your next post. I try to be thoughtful and kind in what I say and do but this post kind of makes me feel like its an uphill battle as I would have completely missed the point on this one without your beautifully worded explanation. I feel a bit ashamed, really sad and quite defeated after reading this. Poor preacher.

Andrea S. said...

Dave, thank you for this post. In the past few years, I, too, have learned to bristle when people automatically associate intelligence with kindness, friendliness, or other characteristics that have nothing to do with intelligence. It didn't come to me automatically. I grew up in a family that values intelligence, perhaps in part because we do have many family members on both sides of the family tree that happen to be "intelligent" at least in the sense of being excellent at school. I don't think anyone in my family "means" to be prejudiced toward people who aren't as skilled at academic pursuits or other traditional definitions of intelligence ... but as has been said at this blog before, sometimes it doesn't matter what you MEAN, it matters what you DO. So I've had to unlearn some mental and verbal habits over the years.

Andrea S. said...

To "Anonymous" (signed as "poor preacher"):

If being kind feels like an uphill battle then it means you're doing something right. It means you aren't resting on the assumption that you're already a perfect person who doesn't need to examine yourself for flaws. It means you challenge your own thoughts and assumptions when they deserve to be challenged and you consider another approach.

A person who claims that they always unfailingly do the right thing by instinct, who claims that doing the right thing is easy, is a person who worries me. These are the people who are not going to listen if you try to point out that they've made a mistake, that they've hurt someone without realizing it. These are the people who indignantly reply that they are kind people which automatically means it's not possible for them to hurt others simply because they didn't MEAN to. These are the people who are likely to keep on doing what hurts others even after they've been told the consequences of their behavior because they're too convinced of their own enduring kindness to see that sometimes kindness isn't.

The ones who struggle with it, the ones who know that compassion without thought isn't always compassion, but that compassion well informed and carefully considered and painfully won is more likely to make a genuine difference--those are the people I'm more likely to trust, and to respect. Because those are the people who not only make mistakes but who actually learn from them and, in learning, are changed by them enough to make a genuine difference for others.

ivanova said...

It's hard to use exactly the right word every single time when every word conveys a thousand nuances. It's too bad you and the pastor were completely understanding each other for 99.9% of the conversation and it only took one word to derail things. Maybe "intelligent" means something else to the minister than it does to you. It's hard to have true communication with people.

Stephanie said...

Andrea -
I get what you are saying about what you feel this man was going through. I DO understand that and I was ready to react exactly the way you described....until the man started physically attacking my van, throwing things in the street, etc. Again, this is one of the busiest streets in town. Had I NOT geven him the benefit of the doubt in that situation, he would have been in jail....just as any other "typical" person would have.

His wife later called to apologize because he was drunk when that incident happened. He apparently did it to a few other people just driving down the street.

I think you missed part of the point of my post ....that it was my mistake to think that just because somebody else has something going on they would be able to empathize with somebody else, or not react to a situation thinking it is "all about them" It wasn't like I stopped to stare. I was in motion driving down the street and waved - that is it. I get the situation was NOT "all about me".

I am thinking we ALL have a lot of work to so, including yourself/myself. For you to assume that my only experience with discrimination is through my son is right in line with what I was thinking last night...and it is wrong. My experience with discrimination and outright abuse is lifelong and intense....it only serves to enhance my parenting with my son. Quite frankly, if I hadn't gone through the things I had (including a broken back and partial paralysis)- I would have never had the courage to stand up for my son. In short, he would be dead now.

I am striving to teach him that you can either spend your life playing victim to your circumstance or rise above it. I can only give him the skills and pray that he chooses the correct path for him. Just like any other child...

I am sad that man never got the same. Like I said in my last post, I am sorry for what ever he has had to endure that made him the person he is now. But people have a choice how they respond to a situation....there are too many people out there who have suffered abuse after abuse and have gone on to be compassionate, decent people.

I wonder if you re-read the last post and take out the fact that this was a Little Person, if you would be saying the same? Would I?

As I said before, that incident taught me that I still have a long way to go with regard to my thinking.....I wonder if the new neighbor can say the same?

Anonymous said...

The wheeliecrone says-
It's about judgment and humanity, isn't it? No matter what a person's level of intelligence, one can exercise good or poor judgment. And while a dog can only behave like a dog, and a horse can only behave like a horse, human beings can be, and quite often are, inhuman. Behaving in an inhuman manner is one of the great character flaws exhibited by human beings.

Dave Hingsburger said...

When writing this I wasn't actually meaning to point a finger at the minister. She was a nice woman. I was trying to focus on the verbal habit of tying intelligence to moral superiority - we all know where that leads. So don't worry about chatting with me and having to watch every word. I'm really not that picky.

To Steph and Andrea: I think the fact that the man's wife decked him is an indicator that he'd gone too far and that he needed to pull his temper back in. I'm guessing he's not always like that or she'd have given up on correcting him. The only time Joe wacks me (we do NOT have an abusive relationship) is when he's saying 'ok, now, enough - get back to being the un-angry you'.

Tamara said...

Just last night I finished reading the Power of One, set in South Africa during and after WW2 - in which the main character comes to this same conclusion.

I know I've thought and probably said the same thing -- not meaning IQ, but that in general, it's disappointing that as humans - no matter what we'd score on an IQ test - that we haven't learned enough to have gotten past treating each other so hatefully.

Kristin said...

What a wonderful rant! I hate it when people equate intelligence and kindness. They definitely are not the same thing.

lexica510 said...

Thanks for this post, Dave. I'm sure I've carelessly used "intelligent" the way the minister did, without even thinking about the associations it has.

Upon reflection, "awareness" or "compassion" are both closer to what I would mean if I said something like that ("It's hard to believe anyone with any awareness would use that word"). And now I can pay attention to using those better words, instead of inconsiderately using a hurtful one. Thank you for pointing to this as something to be aware of.

Moose said...

About Steph's story: Being different doesn't mean you get to be a doormat and it also doesn't mean you get to treat others like one. "Gee, you must be having a bad day" is just as condescending as outright discrimination.

I'm always hearing complaints that {group} (fill in the blank yourself) wants "special treatment" for their perceived difference. Instead we all want to be treated the same -- as human beings. That means your bad behaviour is out there to be called on, just like everyone else's.

Dave: great post. We don't really think about what "intelligence" is, socially. This is, I believe, in part because IQ and common sense are two separate things but often confused, and in part because of gross assumptions.

Shantimama said...

Wonderfully said, Dave. Thank you for articulating it so clearly. The older I get the more I believe it is all about kindness.

Andrea S. said...

Steph:

I went back to re-read your original comment. You didn't originally include the bit about how he became violent/threatening, so I had only gotten the impression that he was yelling. But still my bad for not stopping to wonder if there were details you had left out. I sometimes forget that not everyone “overwrites” the way I do. You're right, that did go over the top. Even if he *was* reacting to a wider pattern of discrimination (and, yes, I get that you weren't staring, but I'm not sure if you got my point that a completely innocuous pause to wave a friendly welcome could initially *seem* that way if you're hyper-primed to read it that way) there's no excuse to throw things or physically attack property or otherwise behave in a threatening way--even if drunk, even if provoked.

You're right, I jumped to assumptions about your background. I leaped to that assumption because people who don't experience a lot of direct discrimination themselves do tend to be more likely to get offended if someone else reads their behavior as "discriminatory" without stopping to think that maybe they’re the ones who need to learn patience and work to earn trust instead of treating it as an entitlement. I over-interpreted based on too little information, and I apologize.

However, one thing that still bugs me in your story is your interpretation of the man's behavior as thinking he is "entitled" to behave poorly because he is a little person. This pushes a personal button for me. When I was about 10 years old, I went through basically a combination of underlying, undiagnosed attention deficit disorder coupled with a fairly typical pre-adolescent, mildly "rebellious" stage. For example, I kept doing things like postponing my homework and only completing it because my parents bugged me mercilessly about it. But then I would forget to actually bring it to school even though I genuinely very much meant to. Punishing me over and over didn't help. And when the teacher kept telling me that "being smart" didn't entitle me to be irresponsible, that didn't help either. And it didn't help when the interpreter told me that she "knew" that the "real excuse" I was trying to use was my deafness, and that didn't excuse my behavior either. But both of these assumptions on their parts only created a lot of resentment on my part because I was NOT using EITHER my intelligence OR my deafness as an excuse for my behavior. I was behaving like a brat because ... guess what? I was a brat. NOT because I had illusions of entitlement but because I was 10 years old, and sometimes a 10 year old child will be a brat for no good reason..

What *DID* finally get on track was when, the following fall, I figured out with my parents' help that I needed to develop a habit of fully packing my school bag the night before I went to bed. Once I started that nightly routine, all the problems with remembering to bring my homework to school completely vanished. Blaming me for a sense of entitlement THAT I DIDN'T HAVE didn't do it. Working with me to find a solution DID.

I do get that, every once in a while, a person with disabilities actually does end up with a false sense of entitlement. But I suspect that what happens more frequently is, as Moose says in her post, people may *read* a sense of entitlement into a person's behavior that isn't actually there. And when it happens I do find that condescending.

Maybe I'm missing some crucial detail again, but what led you to the assumption that the man was using his status as a little person to excuse or justify his behavior? Did he actually *say* “I’m a little person I get to do what I want?” or what?

Thanks.

Andrea S. said...

Steph:

I went back to re-read your comment. You didn't originally include the bit about how he became violent/threatening, so I had only gotten the impression that he was yelling. But still my bad for not stopping to wonder if there were details you had left out. I sometimes forget that not everyone “overwrites” the way I do. You're right: Even if he *was* reacting to a wider pattern of discrimination (and, yes, I get that you weren't staring, but I'm not sure if you got my point that a completely innocuous wave could initially *seem* near enough if you're hyper-primed to read it that way) there's no excuse to behave in a threatening way--even if drunk, even if provoked.

You're right, I jumped to assumptions about your background. I leaped to that assumption because people who don't experience a lot of direct discrimination themselves do tend to be more likely to get offended if someone else reads their behavior as "discriminatory" without stopping to think that maybe they’re the ones who need work to earn trust instead of assuming they’re automatically entitled to it. I over-interpreted based on too little information, and I apologize.

However, one thing that still bugs me is your interpretation that he thought he is "entitled" to behave poorly because he is a little person. This pushes a personal button for me. When I was about 10 years old, I went through basically a combination of underlying, undiagnosed attention deficit disorder coupled with a fairly typical pre-adolescent, mildly "rebellious" stage. For example, I kept doing things like postponing my homework and only completing it because my parents bugged me mercilessly about it. But then I would forget to actually bring it to school even though I genuinely meant to. Punishing me over and over didn't help. And when the teacher kept telling me that "being smart" didn't entitle me to be irresponsible, that didn't help either. And it didn't help when the interpreter told me that she "knew" the "real excuse" I was using was my deafness. But both of these assumptions on their parts only created a lot of resentment on my part because I was NOT using EITHER my intelligence OR my deafness as an excuse for my behavior. I was behaving like a brat because ... guess what? I was a brat. NOT because I had illusions of entitlement but because I was 10 years old, and sometimes a 10 year old child will be a brat for no good reason.

What *DID* finally get me on track was when, the following fall, I figured out with my parents' help that I needed to develop a habit of packing my school bag the night before I went to bed. Once I started doing that, all the problems with remembering to bring my homework to school vanished. Blaming me for a sense of entitlement THAT I DIDN'T HAVE didn't do it. Working with me to find a solution DID.

I do get that, every once in a while, a person with disabilities actually does end up with a false sense of entitlement. But I suspect that what happens more frequently is, as Moose says in her post, people may *read* a sense of entitlement into a person's behavior that isn't actually there. And when it happens I do find that condescending.

Maybe I'm missing some crucial detail again, but what led you to the assumption that the man was using his status as a little person to excuse or justify his behavior?

Thanks.

Andrea S. said...

Oh my goodness, I did not mean to post that twice. I kept getting an error message so I thought it wasn't going through, but it looks like it did--both times!

I don't know how to delete my own post. Dave, you may please feel free to delete the duplicate!

Stephanie said...

Andrea -

Thanks for your comments...Yes, somewhere in the whole rant he was doing one of those sarcastic "Oh lets all stare at the midgets...diatribes." I am sure he has had rough times - sometimes you can just tell that about people, you know? But, it was still not an excuse for his behavior.

I don't think I am writting this up correctly because the whole thing was soooooo over the top. It was crazy. (I didn't want to hijack Dave's post - LOL!)

I was in the Marines - I know how to defendd myself. Thankfully, I haven't had to do it too many times in my life. However, I keep replaying the incident and still can't help but feel a bit hyocritical.....Had it been a 5' 10" man doing the same thing, I can pretty much guarantee you he would have been put down and taken away by the cops.

I gave this guy a pass because of his physical difference and I still can't decide if that was the right move or not.....Still thinking on that one.

Dave & Moose: When the wife called me later, it sounded as if this was not the first time she has had to do this. They have a son, who looks to be 16 or 17 and fairly tall - but the kid was cowering behind the moving truck....not so much from embarassment it seemed, more because he looked to be afraid that he would be the next target should his Dad make eye contact. You don't get reactions like that from teenaged boys without a lifetime of conditioning. The whole thing is just sad -IMHO.

I will keep you all updated if there are any more incidents. We have our house up for sale, so hopefully there won't be any more to report. :)

Thanks!

Steph

Andrea S. said...

Stephanie:

It does sound like the attitude others have shown toward little people are a big trigger for him. But that's still not quite the same as, "I'm a little person so I get to do whatever I want and your job is just to feel sorry for me." There could have been extra layers of thought and behavior going on. Maybe he's an MCP who thinks, "I'm a man so it's okay for me to express anger in a way that wouldn't be okay for women. Oooh boy, X and Y and Z all make me angry so I'm going to go ahead and fly off the handle now, no need to restrain myself, I'm a man and I'm drunk so it's okay." I'm not saying he is, but proposing alternate possibilities. Just because other people's behavior toward his shortness is obviously a TRIGGER doesn't mean that he's necessarily using it as an EXCUSE. And without his actually SAYING, "I get to behave this way because X" (where X says "drunk" or "a man" or "a little person" or "my shoes are too tight" or whatever). I don't think either you or I can read his mind to know what trope he's mentally using to excuse his behavior, at least not based on the details you've shared, and being careful to distinguish trigger from excuse. For that matter, he may not be consciously excusing his behavior at all. He may have learned poor control as a child for all sorts of reasons, feels ashamed of how he behaves while drunk, but instead of dealing with it he shuts down all emotions except the anger because that's the only emotion for which he has a tool to deal with (by acting out, at least while drunk). It's possible for people to be obnoxious without them necessarily latching on to a specific excuse for that. Which is not to say that this is attractive behavior -- it isn't and isn't right, if a person has learned poor behavioral habits from somewhere that hurt or frighten or embarrass other people then they have a responsibility to deal with the uncomfortable feelings and change their behavior, whether that means dismantling internalized excuses or just dealing with difficult emotions or whatever it is that has been blocking them (or that they've been allowing to block them). But the point is, we can't know if it's this or something else going on inside him. And because I have had mistaken assumptions about my own behavior thrown into my face based on zero evidence to no productive purpose, I get sensitive when I hear people attributing motivations like "he's using his disability as an excuse" to others without clearer supporting evidence. It's possible to say, "This person has no excuse for their behavior" without trying to attribute a motivation to it that you can't know for sure is necessarily correct.

I hope my intended meaning is coming through more clearly. It may be that you and I are operating from slightly different definitions of the word "excuse" or something.

Georzetta said...

I think it's wonderful to see so many people devoting so much time and energy thinking these things through.

Let's give ourselves credit. We're trying.Sometimes that is as good as it gets.

brilliantmindbrokenbody said...

Attributing behavior to intelligence or lack thereof has been a real problem for me.

It's partly elitism, and I know it. I'm in the top small-fraction-of a percent (like top .25% or .1%) in intelligence, and it's something I've always taken pride in (which is part of what was so difficult about the way I became disabled - it often affects my ability to think). Or rather, I took pride in it once I knew - as a child, I couldn't understand why people couldn't just get things like I did, and I didn't know just how high I ranked vis-a-vis others until I was 16 or so.

I still really, really struggle with using 'stupid' and 'idiot' when they aren't relevant, and with the fact that they're nasty pejoratives to use. I've gotten better about saying someone is rude, or that someone is a bad driver, or that I can't comprehend why someone would DO...whatever.

It's something I've been working on myself really hard on for months, along with not calling someone or something 'crazy' or 'mad' when what they're doing has nothing to do with mental illness.

It's been harder work than I'd like to admit. I hate discovering my own prejudices, but if I don't I'll never get rid of them, so it's work worth doing...but man, is it ever work.

Cynthia F. said...

Great point Dave! I'm thinking of Dick Cheney in the intelligent but heartless and unethical and cruel category...