Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A Little Love

I got a talking to.

I "lost a fan forever."

I watched a back walk away from me, steps echoing angrily in the carpeted hallway.

Flustered, upset and, I'll admit, a bit of annoyance ran through me. I don't like the assault time of confrontation. But, let's back up and let me tell you what led up the the incident.

I was touring around the book tables at the conference I was at, I'd stopped to wait patiently in line to see something, there was a fellow slightly ahead of me and a browser in front of him. When the browser moved, I indicated that he was there first, to go head. He said, jokingly, "Oh, I wouldn't step in front of a big man like you." I smiled at the joke and said again, "No, you were here first go ahead." Then he started in on me, "But you are so big, I should let you go ahead, it's dangerous to be in front of someone so big ..." He was smiling saying all this but I got annoyed, inside I'm thinking, "shut the fuck up and look at the table," what I did say was, "I find this whole conversation offensive, I think I'll just leave and come back later." I turned and sped away to the ubiquitous excuse, "I didn't mean anything by it."

And it was over in my mind.


I saw him a couple times later during the conference and always nodded a "hello" to him. He nodded back. He and I had an unpleasant interchange, on both parts, I would imagine, and we moved on. I'm not one to carry a grudge about it. I've not the room in my pockets, what with glasses, wallet and my noon pills.

So, imagine my surprise.

I'm grabbed during a moment alone by a woman who is seething with anger. She said that she saw the interaction with the fellow and thought I was highly rude. She said that at this conference I should be careful because some of the people there have intellectual disabilities and I should have extra special patience and understanding. She was horrified and disappointed in me.


I don't follow.

I wasn't rude - he was. I didn't yell at him, swear at him, hurt him in any ways, I just said that I found the discussion offensive and left. I was pleasant to him in all following interactions.

I told her that I was offended by the idea that people with intellectual disabilities should live by a separate set of social rules because a separate set of social rules leads to living a separate life. I didn't know if the man had a disability or not and it didn't matter. I wanted him to go ahead, I wanted him to shut up with the loud, and unending remarks about my size, when he didn't I told him why I was leaving and I left.

My hope, no matter who this guy is, no matter if he has a disability or not, is that maybe next time he'll handle the situation a little differently. Maybe he will realize that a long drawn out, and loud, joke about someone's appearance isn't really socially acceptable. Maybe with a few similar interactions he'll learn better how to get along with people at a public gathering ... disability or not.

I don't know why we let people with disabilities (and others) get away with socially bombastic or rude behaviour and then expect them to somehow manage to get into friendships and relationships.


I wasn't thinking about teaching.

I just wanted to stop something that I was finding uncomfortable and offensive.

It worked.

If it does more. Good.

I tried to tell her that people with disabilities need the same learning experiences as everyone else. She said, just before walking away, "No, what they need is patience and love."

I tell you true, it's this attitude that has lead to people with disabilities getting lots of patience and little love.


Kristine said...

Amen! I think I've commented before about how when I was a kid (in a wheelchair), I didn't like playing with other kids in wheelchairs. Too often they were spoiled, rude, and much too used to getting their way. Not fun to play with. I was also aware, as a child, of how many adults in wheelchairs were bossy, rude, and while the people around them smiled patiently, they clearly were tolerating, not loving, the person with the disability. I was terrified of growing up to be just like them.

I'm not a fan of giving passes to the disabled for offensive, rude behavior. If the disability is cognitive, then that seems like more reason why it might be necessary to explain how their words and actions are impacting other people. None of us LIKE to be told that our actions were wrong or offensive, but, sometimes, we all need to hear it.

Anonymous said...

Well - I don't think I would be seething with anger at you - especially if I did't know you - but maybe a little shocked if I did. If I witnessed it as you outlined, and didn't know you, I may have thought that you had an intellectual disability and were acting out as you were taught (remove yourself from threat). It is a bit childish to roll away. And I guess I can see her point - you do not know where the fellow is coming from and his fears. It would appear you went from 0 to 60 in anger pretty quickly. Being a larger person myself, I have to realize I am intimidating. I agree, we need to treat folks in an "ordinary" meaningful way - disabled or not - but that doesn't include being rude.

Baba Yaga said...

What on earth made her think that your response wasn't a patient one? Had you said what you were thinking - well, in all honesty, it'd have been proportionate impatience.

Typing as a social blundere of sometimes cringeworthy proportions, simple clarity is one of the gentlest things I can think of. Without it, my odds of "somehow manag[ing] to get into friendships and relationships" were much less.

You were seeing an equal, and the angry woman wasn't. I know far too well which form of treatment gives a better chance at equality.

Baba Yaga said...

Anon., a question: why do you consider rolling away childish?

Anonymous said...

I do not comment as a rule, just read,lurk and learn. I do not agree with you always - but always , ALWAYS, think about what you have said. This post is perfectly right on. In my entire career I've heard the "precious souls thing", the "innocent angel", "always happy" , "they don't know any better" thing and the other many reasons to excuse what amounts to rude, spoiled rotten behavior - it does them no favors as then they are ostrasized because who really wants to spend time with anyone who behaves that way? We have a "rights advisor" who sets such outrageous rules and guildlines for "acceptable" behavior and what we are prohibited from saying or teaching ( basic social manners being one of the restricted things) it is just ridiculous. It does nothihg but promotes alienation. Congratulations - A+. lol

John R. said...

People with disabilities can be rude. People with disabilities can be kind. People with disabilities can offend. People with disabilities can be gracious. THe woman who apparently thinks that people with disabilities are fragile little beings who need to be protected and not held accountable for public rudeness is dangerous. It is exactly this attitude that will create continued prejudice and, it is incredible in 2012 at such a conference such an attitude was experienced. wow.....

Team Lando said...

Regardless of whether or not the man you corrected has an intellectual disability, you handled the situation well. If you didn't get angry at him and simply asked him to stop, you either a) corrected thoughtless behavior or b) identified rude behavior to someone who many not have realized his internal monologue needed to shut off. Bravo for holding ALL people to a polite standard.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that she had an issue with you expressing how you felt about how you were spoken to by a stranger (in a calm and rational manner) but felt it was okay to "scold" you about how she felt about your communication. Hmmm...

Anonymous said...

Hate to break it to you, Dave, but I don't think that woman was a true fan of yours.

Because no one who has read and pondered what you write here--which I reckon must mirror your life's work--could so completely fail to appreciate the lesson you imparted to that man and your treatment of him afterwards.


FunMumx3 said...

OMG Dave, wouldn't this make a perfect workshop exercise? I see it in two parts where you give a group of support workers the initial scenario to discuss, then after a period of time give them more information. Wowzer. If I was still in social services I would ask your permission to use this idea! (now, I am just a humble parent).

I don't know (because I don't know you) if a stranger, in an appropriate context, threw out a casual 'hey big guy', would that be OK with you? I guess in this situation it was the continued use of the words - would it be reasonable to think this individual was on the autism spectrum perhaps and had poor social skills? Social skills are so tricky and I know adults who have to literally review the rule book for everything that comes out of their mouths - it's not innate, they have learned the social rules but forget so easily.

Nice post, Dave. Hope it can become a discussion topic and find a positive outcome in the long run

Ettina said...

I disagree. I don't think people with intellectual disabilities, or other disabilities that affect social skills, should be held to the same standard of rudeness.

I'm autistic. I often make unintentional social blunders. If someone gently pointed out that it wasn't considered polite to do that, I'd appreciate that, but them saying I'm being offensive and then leaving would leave me feeling devastated.

And it's not just a matter of learning social skills. It will always be harder for me, no matter how much experience I have. I'll never be as socially skilled as I should be for my age. While I'm learning social skills all the time, others are too - and it comes much easier to them than it does to me, so by necessity I will remain behind. And because I look normal and act mostly normal, people don't realize just how much effort it takes, effort better spent working on my psychology degree and learning daily living skills.

That woman sounds very condescending, but she does have a point. You can't expect the same from a person with a disability. Don't give them allowances that aren't warranted by the disability (a cognitively normal person with a physical disability has no more excuse to be rude than a non-disabled person) but do give them allowances for things their disability impacts on.

Would you have dealt with the situation the same way if a five year old had been making that joke?

Anonymous said...

Etna might want to be talk to like a five year old. I don't. Autism or not I am an adult.

Anonymous said...

In response to the question why I think rolling away was a childish response is that I feel (remember that is my opinion) that Dave made the man's problem his problem - and responded in a "hurt" fashion rather than a mature fashion. The man was not finished talking. Dave was already showing his impatience "shut the fuck up and look at the table" on the inside. This was further reflected in "I find this WHOLE conversation offensive" (emphasis mine). If Dave was in line of a grocery store or liquor store, perhaps removing himself from an unsafe situation would be prudent - but condering where he was, a conference, the atmosphere was familiar, the situations previously encountered and perhaps an attitude needed adjusted. It "appears" that Dave did not get what he wanted in the time he wanted in the company he wanted and rolled away. That is why I felt it was childish. It is hard to seperate the professional Dave from the human Dave at times. Again - just my opinion - not necessarily right - just mine.

Alyssa said...

Actually I don't think I would let a five year old make repeated fat jokes in my direction, either. Not that having an intellectual disabity and being a kindergartener are the same. Not that we know if this person had ID or not.
BUT...I probably wouldn't have smiled at the first joke either. So maybe it was a little mixed message IF he had ID. If not he should have known better, period.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I think you handled yourself well. You "bit your lip" initially, to listen to this person, and then you made a factual statement about the situation at hand, and removed yourself. You did not engage this person in a debate or discussion ... you just moved on. Regardless of whether the gentleman had any "issues", we are all responsible to give one another basic respect as fellow human beings. That's how we all get along. He obviously realized he was inappropriate .. and hopefully, this may be a benefit for him in future interactions ... as others may not be as polite as yourself. (ie. he could say the same thing to another person, who would punch him in the face .... just saying).

I think if the lady who confronted you thereafter, knew you ... perhaps one of the problems is that many of us (and perhaps you too, in some of your own relationships), have certain expectations of certain people. And, perhaps, as a teacher, lecturer and advocate, she may expect you to always be "on duty" so to say; but, you shouldn't always have to be in "teacher mode". You should be able to be just another human, browsing at books, etc. at a conference, and be able to receive and give basic respect/space to others present. I think you gave this person something to reflect upon, and hopefully they'll think about what they actually said to you.

I know with my son, if everyone always babied him and didn't hold him accountable for things he said (even though he 99% of the time never would want to ever hurt anyone or say anything wrong), if he wasn't simply told that his comments were rude or his comment was inappropriate ... I'm certain, he would end up in the hospital, or having charges up against him. And, my son's one of the kindest and loving people; but, like all of us, we need to be held accountable (to the level of relationship we have with a respective person). And, in your situation, this was a complete stranger .. it was not your grandaughter, your work associate, your patient, your pupil ... it was a complete stranger. I would have been flabergasted by the ladies comments to you .... and would have been silent, as well. Again, there was no relationship with her, and the situation did not directly involve her in the first place ... although it certainly does add to awkward moments. If those comments had come from my son, I would have thanked you.

Take care :)
Elizabeth (& Andrew)

Susan said...

Oh my gosh, Dave, I would have died! I don't know how you held it together enough to muster the perfect response in the face of such offensiveness. It was the right thing to say and do.

I'm sure the guy was telling the truth when he said he didn't mean anything by it - but that doesn't mean he was not offensive.

I am thankful for the kindness of friends - and sometimes strangers - who have helped me to comprehend - and to take responsibility for - the things I say/do which might seem all right to me from my side of my eyeballs, but in actuality are offensive and hurtful to others. Just because I don't mean it to be offensive doesn't mean it isn't.

I feel so sorry for the lady who "corrected" you. She'll probably never get it...

Anonymous said...

I don't think Ettina was asking to be treated like a five year old. And I don't think she was asking to never be corrected either.

If I may make an analogy here: I happen to be deaf. Most of the time my volume control is fine: I talk as loud as is needed without being too loud. But of course the appropriate volume is very context-dependent: a volume okay in an office environment where people expect to spend part of the day talking is not the same as the volume okay to use if in a movie theater where others expect silence. A volume that works okay in someone's quiet living room may not be heard at all in a noisy restaurant.

I can understand all of this intellectually and could even explain it to a five year old deaf child if I needed to. And if social rules for how loud to pitch my voice was all I needed to worry about, then most of the time I would be fine. But noisy restaurants are always a big challenge for me because I simply cannot calibrate the volume of my voice in comparison to the volume of the background noise. Very frequently I end up being too quiet to be heard. And once in a while I go in the opposite direction and speak too loudly.

When I have been accidentally too loud, I have had hearing people become very upset at me and scold me or chew me out for being too loud. Often their excuse is, "well, it was so nerve wrecking to be scared out of my skin at the sudden loud volume of your voice" Okay, I can get that, I feel the same way if someone taps my shoulder more vigorously than needed to get my attention (it is enough to simply lightly touch my upper arm, you don't have to rip my arm off to get my attention!). But because I'm never going to be able to hear well enough to calibrate with precision exactly how loud I should be, I am always going to make the occasional error in judging what volume level is needed. I do appreciate being told that I'm too loud--because otherwise, how else would I know that I need to dial it down? But I don't appreciate being attacked for it. I want to be told in a tactful manner. And no, I don't mean that you have to hedge your words with, "well, I hate to tell you this and I know you're nice but blah blah" ... I just mean, say it without biting my head off.

I may be allowing my own experience to color my perspective here, but I interpreted Ettina as basically asking for the same kind of courtesy here: i.e., you can tell her if she's accidentally doing something rude, just don't bite her head off for it. Because, as an autistic person, it's always going to happen, it's not exactly a nice feeling to be attacked or have to deal with someone else's angry reaction for something that can't completely be helped. I interpret her as asking to be told in a more gentle way.

I also think it's worth noting that there are certain differences between autism and intellectual disability. A person with intellectual disability can eventually learn to intuit social rules even if it takes longer. But an autistic person trying to be polite is in some ways like a deaf person trying to calibrate her volume to be heard over background noise that she can't really hear well. Although knowing the social rules can take you a very long way, it still doesn't mean that you have the capability to "read" body language or intuit how one social situation might be different in critical ways from other social situations that initially seem similar. So mistakes will still be made. And I think you can make allowances for those occasional mistakes by finding a way to point them out without attacking or acting as if the other person is terrible for making those mistakes.

Hope I am not too far off base here in interpreting Ettina's response and that all this makes sense.

Andrea S.

Rosemary said...

Dave, I am with you on this one. A rude remark is a rude remark, whether it comes from someone with or without disabilities. You answer was straight forward and said without pouncing back in kind.

Just as an aside, I am so tired of folks who make a habit of commenting about my weight. Hey, there is a real person inside this body, who has real feelings, too.

Shan said...

I can see both sides here.

The case might be different for a person with a severe disability - though that person would not likely be browsing a table without a care provider in attendance - but in the end I think that seeing people with disabilities as not responsible for their own social behaviour is dehumanising.

Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about this, and I'm not sure he was "joking". He may have been smiling, but he was saying that he didn't feel safe with you behind him.

If so, he didn't express it well. Consider that perhaps someone in the past had given him reason to feel that way. Maybe someone less skilled with their wheels had bumped into him. Perhaps he had been bullied or teased.

I know that I don't like it when someone "politely" insists that I do something that I'd rather not. What he said seemed rude. But you didn't accept his "no" either.

Or maybe he was just rude. I wasn't there. Either way, it seems like you handled it well.


Anonymous said...

I've been thinking about this, and I'm not sure he was "joking". He may have been smiling, but he was saying that he didn't feel safe with you behind him.

If so, he didn't express it well. Consider that perhaps someone in the past had given him reason to feel that way. Maybe someone less skilled with their wheels had bumped into him. Perhaps he had been bullied or teased.

I know that I don't like it when someone "politely" insists that I do something that I'd rather not. What he said seemed rude. But you didn't accept his "no" either.

Or maybe he was just rude. I wasn't there. Either way, it seems like you handled it well.


Moose said...

Every time we make excuses for someone's behavior, whether they're disabled in some way, very young, or just a jerk, we put them on some kind of special pedestal. And then we're saying, 'Anyone on this pedestal is excused from proper behavior.'

It's not every person's job to teach others how to behave all the time.

It's not every person's job to have to explain oneself in bad situations.

Perhaps he really didn't understand why he was being offensive. That doesn't mean that he wasn't offensive. And that also doesn't mean that you are somehow "required" to explain why he was offensive. That's an option. Options are, as they say, optional.

I'm not sure I would have handled this situation with as much grace. I probably would have been confrontational, asking why my body size was so important to him. But that's *me*, and I am not YOU. And, trust me, you are better off for not being ME. :-P

Ettina said...

The deaf anonymous sums it up exactly.

I don't want to be 'treated like a five year old' in the sense of being talked down to, patronized, and not taken seriously as a competent person. Five year olds, in my experience, don't want that either. If you take them seriously and listen to them, they recognize that and appreciate it.

But you wouldn't treat them like a typical adult, either. They won't understand some things an NT adult will understand. They won't find the same things interesting. They'll do things by mistake that in an NT adult couldn't possibly be done by mistake. They'll focus on different aspects of a situation and come to a different conclusion.

A lot of people think that because I can *seem* normal much of the time, they can expect normal behavior from me *all* the time, heedless of the effort it takes for me. When I say or do something that doesn't fulfill social norms, sometimes even people who know I'm autistic will react as if I did it deliberately and with intent to be rude. Which is how Dave reacted, and if the guy did have an intellectual disability, that reaction was not really appropriate.

I'm not saying treat me like a child - I'm not a child. But don't treat me like a neurotypical adult, either. Treat me as a competent, capable person who does not think or behave in a typical manner, but is not any less worthwhile as a result.

Ettina said...

Oh, sorry, just realized she signed her post. Andrea S, are you the same person who often comments on my blog?

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave, I have thought about this for a couple of days, and thought I would add my "Dutch Uncle" comments . . .

Please sit down (okay - not necessary, but want you to be prepared to practice something important) . . . put your most dead-pan face on . . . no DEAD-PAN (I know you can do it) . . . THAT'S BETTER . . . (sorry for yelling) and repeat after me . . . "You seem to be mistaking me for someone who is accountable to you . . ."
Say this until you can do it while maintaining the dead-pan look. Please offer this to anyone who chooses to comment on your behaviour and who is not in a position of authority over you (I wouldn't try it with a police officer or someone who employs you). There - do you feel better? You have a tool in your arsenal that you can pull out whenever needed . . .
With fond regards, Susan Goharriz

Just Heidi said...

Good for you Dave - Regardless of this man's ability, he had no right to talk to you that way. Good for you for handling the situation as you did. As for the lady who gave her 2 cents... she'll get over it. The exchange between you and Mr. Rude was none of her business. How would she have reacted if she were in your shoes? Would she have smiled at the said person and graciously step aside - thinking to herself.. God love him, he doesn't know any better. Well, he knows better now and hopefully in the future he will think twice before making such a comment. Your experience reminds me of an experience I had with an Educational Assistant at my daughter's school. One morning when I was dropping my daughter off at school, she ran into the play area and threw her school bag on the ground. I approached my daughter and asked her to pick up her school bag and set it down gently. (Which she did) at that point, the EA approaches me and says- you should be grateful she can throw her school bag.. ah yes, the ole... pity party. You see my daughter has a diagnosis of Autism. We should rejoice and praise the Lord above and be grateful that even though she has Autism, she can at least still throw her school bag..... I explained to the EA that I was grateful for everything she could do and even more grateful that her Mother cared enough to teach her appropriate behaviour. ;)

Laura said...

Does anyone ever consider that if this man knew enough to say he didn't mean anything by it, that he knew what he was doing was wrong and hurtful on some level. Also it's not like Dave saw this man and made comments every time for the next 3 DAYS!! I think excusing the behavior is wrong. It was dealt with then and there and it was over with. I do some care giving for an adult who often sees the world as a much younger person. When I speak to him, I do it with love patience and respect, but that doesn't mean I let him do things that are rude or nasty just because he may not understand at first or the next time that he is being rude. He does know what it is like to have his feelings hurt because it happens to him often when people don't understand where he is coming from. I know that I have often used those things as teachable moments I don't think it is ever wrong for someone to point out his rudeness if it is done the way dave did it in his situations. I wouldn't want someone to yell at him and curse him out... but then if I am unintentionally hurtful or rude to someone I'd want someone to call me on it as well. Neither of us would ever want to hurt someone because we both know what it is to be hurt. Disability of any type is not an excuse to be rude and, seriously how is it Okay for the woman to judge Dave based on what she thought she knew??

Rickismom said...

I'm with you on this one. Ricki hated being talked down to, being babied. And teaching her appropriate behavior was her key to the possibility of a better future