Disability is not a free pass.
I watched astonished today as a woman with a disability was horrid to a passerby. Nasty. Mean. Purposefully hurtful. When she noticed that she had an audience and that those watching were appalled by her behaviour, she announced that no one understands how difficult it can be to live with a disability and that sometimes she gets angry and frustrated. Just as people's faces began to soften, I spoke up, 'Well I understand and it's not an excuse to behave like a mean spirited spoiled child.'
I shocked myself.
She looked shocked too and said, with real meaning, 'You're right, I'm sorry.' In that moment she regained her dignity, heartfelt honest apology does that.
I think that it's dangerous to let abusers explain away hurtful behaviour. I find it horrid to read a story about someone who has killed a whack of people, or barbecued their neighbours for lunch, and then get the standard, 'but they were hurt as a child'. What? I say again, WHAT? I get that people have tough lives and difficult experiences but their personal behaviour involves a degree, a modicum of CHOICE. Now this woman wasn't packing an Uzi or anything, but she delivered verbal darts that were harsh and cruel. Abuse is abuse.
As a therapist working with offenders I didn't let them ever play the 'I'm a victim so therefore I victimize' game with me. It wasn't helpful. What it was, though, was a perfect way of throwing me off the scent. Of distracting themselves from the fact that THEY did something HORRID. You may find this hard to believe but I managed to hold people accountable and through the process of accepting responsibility came a desire to learn strategies to be able to make new and different choices. Being tough isn't the same as being mean - and to this day I am greeted warmly by most who've I've provided service to. I guess what I'm saying is that having a difficult day does not make it OK for someone to hurt another person - purposefully.
Disability comes with frustrations. But then, so does parenthood. And, of course, so does employment. Marriage, now there's a pressure cooker for you. Yeah. Life is hard. Adulthood is difficult. Everyone who wants to can find an excuse for treating a store clerk like dirt - or a waiter like a piece of shit - or a passerby like trash.
When the woman realized that she had just been purposely mean, I didn't like her blaming disability for the choice that she made. I didn't like the audience to her meanness to become automatically forgiving. Disability is already burdened with enough stereotypes without adding 'causes people to go socially rabid' to the list.
When I'm an asshole, I'm an asshole. I choose to be one. I don't feel like it's a choice at the time of course, there's always a cause - but, in fact, I always do have a choice and I sometimes make the wrong one. But you know, I made the choice to be an asshole just as often, if not moreso, when I was a walking, talking, non-disabled person. Disability, and it's frustrations, is not the elixir that turned this Jekyll into that Hyde.
You may think, and some will of course, that I was mean to speak up at that moment. But I wanted to throw water on the idea that disability gives people a day pass from civility.
And so there. My two cents worth. Give me your four cents worth. Maybe we'll get enough comments to add up to a buck or two and we can use it to buy a special bus to transport people from the 'victim hood' to that place where I long to live ... the 'adult hood'.