"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." Albert Einstein
A lot of people put quotes at the bottom of their emails, kind of a personal signature. I am a lover of quotes, in fact my new book, which I hope will be out sometime later this year, is a collection of quotes about disability by those who have disabilities. Our bathroom always has a quote book sitting beside the toilet and Joe and I are always hollering quotes out to each other when we find one that strikes us funny. So, I get it.
However, when I received an email from a friend of mine, a highly respected professional in the disability field, I noticed the quote which she used as a tag line. I'd seen the quote before but never really took in how it said what it said. Suddenly, with only a moments reflection the quote seemed to be full of ableist and disphobic attitudes. Now I don't think Albert Einstein was purposely setting out to denigrate the disability experience but in using disability as a diminishing adjective - it equates disability with something really negative.
I promised myself that I wasn't going to become like the 'language police' who jump on every possible violation of some very subjective code of linguistic ethics. I figure that we get rid of the 'r' word, I'm good. However, the woman sending the email was someone I knew to have a really high set of personal standards and a really deep awareness of issues around disability.
What to do?
What to do?
What to do?
Before I could think myself into doing nothing, I thought I'd simply trust my understanding of her nature and write her a brief note. Now, I've written corporations, I've written newspapers, I've written politician, I've written Madonna ... and all those letters were easy to do. Those letters were long where this email was short. And yet I don't think I've written a tougher email.
I didn't want to hurt my friend. I didn't want to insult her. I didn't want her to think that I was a nit picky nincompoop. (As an aside I initially wrote 'a nit picky nutcase' and then thought -whoa, whoa, careful about expressing myself at the cost of someone else's self esteem! It's so culturally acceptable to use disability or mental illness in this way. Yikes.) I wrote the email anyways, even with growing apprehension. I paused over the send button, then, hit it.
It didn't take more than a few minutes to get a return email. I was so relieved that my intent was taken at face value and she said that she'd remove it from the bottom of her email. She even kindly quoted from an earlier blog where I'd written that having a disability often meant 'pointing out the obvious to the oblivious' and said that she would take it off the bottom of her email.
Then, as I was reading that email another came in saying that she was going to wait until she found another quote, but couldn't and simply removed it.
I wrote her back saying that she was 'as cool as I thought she was' and expressed my relief that she had responded positively to my suggestion that she take another look at how ol' Albert expressed his opinion. Then I asked her something more, as I can be demanding, I wondered if she would mind if I wrote about our brief interchange, I wondered how many blog readers were finding themselves in my position of wanting to address something with a family member or a friend but was afraid to do so. I think, and I may be wrong, that the experience of finding it easy to take on a corporation but difficult to take on a friend to be a common one. A story of a relationship, not ruined but probably made stronger, might help.
This story only happened because I trusted the heart and the intentions of the woman I wrote to, it only happened because she was open to feedback. I imagine it won't always work this way. But what is friendship if it can't bear the weight of discussion and even disagreement? We all know the answer to that question.