Thursday, December 06, 2012

Thoughts on Yesterday

I know I have a very stark view of the community and of the mass of people who make up what we call 'society.' I know that when I write how I really think the world is socially constructed I get a lot of, vaguely and not so vaguely hostile, response. Here's the deal. I do see good in the world. I do see kindness. I do see people doing extraordinary things to help other people. I do see all that. But I also refuse to NOT see people who dismiss others considered lesser, people who are actively and purposely unkind to those they see as barely human, people who love to taunt others when they feel safe to do so. I know that people know that using the R-word is offensive and they use it because they feel they can. I see the good but refuse to hide behind it.

I can't.

Part of my job is to teach people with disabilities to live in the real world. And in the real world there will be:

teasing
bullying
name calling
discriminatory service
invisibility
moments of real danger and real fear
people who manipulate to exploit
people who will purposely endanger
people who will laugh at your trust

And this is a partial list.

This does not mean that I don't think that people with disabilities shouldn't live in the real world, just that they should be prepared for real world dangers - like we all need to be.

This is a very long introduction to what I want to say today.

When I told the story of yesterday to a number of people, including those with disabilities, I felt kind of disturbed by the responses I got. It took me a long while of thinking to figure out what was bothering me.

It came to me over lunch.

I may think better when I'm actually in the process of rumination.

It seemed to me that everyone, and I may be wrong here, that I spoke to about this, mentioned that that person must have had some mental health issue.

Really?

Why?

I think that people simply don't want to acknowledge that non-disabled people, the people considered the 'norm' could possibly be, simply, mean. It's like people want to believe that only the 'exceptional' could do something like terrorise a passerby with a disability. It's like people want to explain the behaviour by making the PERSON exceptional rather than the behaviour objectionable.

So, only people with mental illness are cruel?

What a horrid stereotype.

I'm guessing people with mental illness experience more cruelty than are practitioners of it. I worked, as a youth, in a volunteer setting with people with mental illness and I never once felt afraid.

Here's the thing: normal people can be, and maybe even often are, capable of cruelty, arrogance, bigotry, self importance and are able to perform intentional and casual acts of social violence.

The norm, at it's core, may not be full of sunshine and hope.

We need to know that, cope with that, live within in it fully prepared.

I can hear the howls now that the world is full of good people. Well, it may be full of people who do good things, but that's not the same thing is it. Read the statistics on bullying and teasing. Read the fact that people with disabilities who live in the community more often live in fear than in safety.

Knowing this we should be careful of placing the blame on the backs of people with mental illness. We in the disability community should know better than that.

Holding people who do bad things accountable is the only way that leads to change.

That guy who scared me. I do not believe he had a mental illness. I believe that he was in a bad frame of mind, saw a moment where he could terrify someone vulnerable, and I fit the ticket. He did it. He's responsible for it.

End of story.

21 comments:

cheeselady said...

I did comment that I assumed the man was mentally ill and needed help. That's different from being mentally ill and in treatment. I specified "and needed help". But I don't disagree that perhaps he was just mean or a bully. But as someone who would not think of scaring someone in that fashion, it seems such a foreign behavior that I attributed it to mental illness and I shouldn't have.

Dave Hingsburger said...

cheeselady, I wasn't speaking specifically about your comment, as I said in the post everyone made a similar attribution. In fact, if it wasn't so commonly said, I wouldn't have noticed it at all. I appreciated you last comment and this one as well. I think we need to talk about the human tendency to slide 'blame' away from 'us' and on to 'them.'

Anonymous said...

I was the post 3rd down yesterday. I did NOT make an such assumption. And to be honest, just like you don't like everyone lumping mental illness with cruelty - I didn't appreciate being lumped with others who "went there". Over 90% of the abuse and cruelty I've experienced in childhood or adulthood was at the hands of people that didn't have a known mental illness (what the world likes to label as "normal").

I know you were trying to make a point and, being the teacher you are, teach a lesson - but please don't paint everyone with the same brush. Thanks Dave.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Anon, I was not talking about people who commented on this blog, I wrote about people I talked to yesterday. Virtually no one who commented here made any assumption at all. I wrote what I wrote because I came up against this 'habit' over and over again in conversation. I would guess that readers of disability blogs would be less prone to this. But that's just a guess.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

You are right of course - these horrible things are all part of our social world. And people with disabilities are more likely to be targets for meanness because bullies do think that they are more vulnerable.

Thanks Dave for speaking this very uncomfortable truth.

Colleen

Glee said...

You are 100% right Dave. I am sorry I didn't post yesterday in support of your feelings.

I have been disabled for my whole life, 56yrs, and it wasn't til I was 40ish that I started to believe what I truly knew and what you said above "normal people can be, and maybe even often are, capable of cruelty, arrogance, bigotry, self importance and are able to perform intentional and casual acts of social violence.".

And the reason I didn't recognise that is cos for my whole life I was taught that ableoids are right and I was wrong. That they knew and I didn't. That I was crooked and they would straighten me. etc. My reality and distress was dismissed or minimized. As an intelligent person who inside really knew something was wrong with all this I was a mess inside because of it.

I put myself thru 6 years of on the couch psychotherapy to find out MY truth. It was a painful, heart tearing six years but I came out the other side in charge of myself. And I remember saying to my therapist "My eyes are open now and in a way I wish I could shut them again". But I don't really. I love me, disability and all and I know I am perfect and wonderful. And I am not hurt by what they think of me cos I KNOW they are wrong. I KNOW they can be weak and mean and selfish, very very selfish. I feel sorry for them now which is way better than hating or fearing them.

It is terrible to know that most people (most subconsciously) think that I am less than human. And it is a fact that that is what they "know", that I am "less than". Most would be appalled if it was suggested and that's because they are basically nice people. But the prejudice is there and it runs deep. It is almost like they can't help it. But they can. We are "civilised" are we not.

Dave I have watched you start to see the truths as you have travelled in your wheelchair and it has made me both sad and glad that you really do see now.

And the mental illness thing is just another form of prejudice and a way for normals to protect themselves by distancing themselves.

Keep on keeping on Dave :)

Karen said...

Dave, you made it perfectly clear in your post that you were talking about the conversations you had with others, not about the comments left here. I don't know why people, instead of hearing you and listening carefully, simply react defensively. What you are saying in today's post is hard to hear but we need to hear it. Thank you for having the courage of your convictions.

gimptude.com said...

As someone with a mental illness, thank you so much for this post.

B Burton said...

I, too, have friends & family who think I "make too much of it" when I complain about attitudes or lack of accessibility. They say things like "it's not like racism". But it is and our feelings, fears and concerns are quite valid. I was once attacked with a shopping cart by a man who was angry I asked him not to pet my service dog. Go figure.

Tamara said...

Some seem to relegate any acts of mass violence to mental illness. I think they just don't want to think people can commit such horrific acts unless there is something "wrong" with them because that might mean that any of us are capable of such things.

Sarah A. said...

Dave, I've always appreciated how you acknowledge as truth that EVERY human being has the potential to act kindly or to act despicably, because we are all living in these varied human bodies in this world together, and we are all capable of screwing up. Every person is capable of doing wrong, even those who think of themselves as a "good" person. But every person is also capable of doing the right thing, too. It's a choice we all have to make from moment to moment. I guess what I'm saying is that your blog often reminds me to be conscious of what choices I'm making today in how I interact with others, and that's one reason I read it and greatly value what you write here every day.

wendy said...

Dave,
I, too, regret that I didn't comment yesterday. Your post made me think of something that happened to me long, long ago when I was in university. The school I attended had a place outdoors on campus where the walking path took you through a short tunnel...the kind that's lined with corregated metal and amplifies all sound within. I was walking alone one day, through that tunnel. Just as I was exiting a group of perhaps 6 young men charged toward me, with one yelling "Get her!" I froze, terrified, clutching my books and closing my eyes. They rushed right past me and then started laughing and congratulating each other on scaring the crap out of me. I was furious and I think I may have even yelled at them. They kept going, laughing and happy. I stood there shaking and tearful. Is there anyone who would deny that was sexism? Do people think they were mentally ill?
It`s awful to be made to feel vulnerable and frightened by someone who did what they did specifically because they knew it would terrify you. I`m sorry that happened to you, Dave.

Myrrien said...

I didnt comment yesterday as sometimes I want to think through the things you say. I must admit yesterday I did consider that the man might have had a mental illness but you are right that is just labelling a behaviour and thus packaging it away safely so we do not have to think about it as it reflects on us, it is "other" so not us. The time made me think about the times I have experienced aggression personally (not professionally ) and the guys who yell out of the van window going by werent mentally ill, the men mocking the way I walk were Mormon missionaries not mentally ill people. The man who is shouting at his neighbour and calling him a "benefit scrounger" isnt mentally ill. I'm not sure it is enough to say they are bullies or mean.

There needs to be more honesty about violence and also about how to support those who are victims. A friend of mine told me very few people have active listening skills. I suspect they are right.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Thanks all, I have found the discussion over the last couple of days incredible. I am so lucky to have readers that can agree and disagree with respect, and who are thoughtful in their responses. I've been enriched by your comments.

Anonymous said...

"I know that when I write how I really think the world is socially constructed I get a lot of, vaguely and not so vaguely hostile, response."

"When I told the story of yesterday to a number of people, including those with disabilities, I felt kind of disturbed by the responses I got. It took me a long while of thinking to figure out what was bothering me."

"It seemed to me that everyone, and I may be wrong here, that I spoke to about this, mentioned that that person must have had some mental health issue."

These are quotes from your blog. You can see I wasn't the only one that thought you were addressing the bloggers with a valid point.

Yes - you did use the words "spoke to" - but how often do we say "Yesterday I spoke to such and such issue...", or "yesterday's blog I spoke of..."and mean writing.

Also in your response to the Cheeselady you wrote in part: "cheeselady, I wasn't speaking specifically about your comment, as I said in the post everyone made a similar attribution." Does that not sound that you were including posts? You didn't say you were not addressing the posts, as there were some references in the replies about mental illness. You only refered to her comment.


Shan said...

I'm happy to see this line:

"Here's the thing: normal people can be, and maybe even often are, capable of cruelty, arrogance, bigotry, self importance and are able to perform intentional and casual acts of social violence."

Unlike Glee, I include everybody in 'normal' people. Those with disabilities are not "perfect and wonderful". That's like cooing and saying "I love people with Downs Syndrome, they are so happy all the time!" EVERYBODY is able to perform intentional and casual acts of violence.

Last year in my town a little 7 year old boy was stabbed to death - 27 times - by his father.

In the local paper today there was a brief article about the legal proceedings, explaining that he was found not guilty by reason of his bipolar disorder. He had been off his meds and sincerely believed he had to kill his son to save the world.

I have seen several comments on Facebook today, from locals, expressing sympathy for both the boy and his poor mentally ill father.

I'm sick and tired of this bullshit. I believe a person's right to a given behaviour ends where another person's right to life and safety begins.

Whether they're disabled, "abloid", mentally ill, whatever. I don't fucking care. You can't go around hurting people.

Ettina said...

"Last year in my town a little 7 year old boy was stabbed to death - 27 times - by his father.

In the local paper today there was a brief article about the legal proceedings, explaining that he was found not guilty by reason of his bipolar disorder. He had been off his meds and sincerely believed he had to kill his son to save the world.

I have seen several comments on Facebook today, from locals, expressing sympathy for both the boy and his poor mentally ill father.

I'm sick and tired of this bullshit. I believe a person's right to a given behaviour ends where another person's right to life and safety begins."

Right. So you're somehow supposed to magically know that your mind is messing with you so you don't know what's right? Do you have any idea what psychosis is?

Granted, most psychosis doesn't result in hurting others. But that's not out of the strength of moral character of the person. It's because their particular hallucinations and delusions weren't ones that made killing someone seem like the only option.

I'm not saying we go 'oh, it's just fine you killed your son, go right ahead and do it'. But why is that the only alternative to blaming the person? Why can't we see the son's death the way we'd see it if his father had an unexpected medical crisis while driving and crashed the car? Plenty of things are bad without having to be someone's fault. It's attitudes like that that interfere with actually helping people like that, so more kids don't have to die.

Alicia said...

Sorry about commenting in an older post. Replies that insist someone must have a mental illness to hurt others bother me, it's ableism, we are people with disabilities too and we are not more cruel than someone without a mental illness.
"I'm guessing people with mental illness experience more cruelty than are practitioners of it. "
Guessed right, mental illness are highly stigmatized disabilities, any disability that affects the mind is a target of terrible prejudice, it doesn't matter if it's a intelectual disability or a mental illness.
It's more common for people with mental illness to be targets of cruelty, from prejudice, bullying, to abuse and being a victim of murder. It's rare for a person with mental illness to practice cruelty, in general the only people we might harm are ourselves.

Rickismom said...

In all honesty, it could easily be that your would-be assailant DOES have mental illness, and I say this because of your description of strange hand movements . But that does not mean that ALL or even MOST people with mental illness are violent. Very few are. BUT many peoplke who ARE violent have some type of mental illness. That does not mean that this was necessarily the case.... many so-called "normal" people are violent as well.
As regards the man with Bi-polar who killed his son, the possible ease which with he is absolved of his crime is absolutely scarey to me. Where does responsibility fall? Is he not responsible for his decision not to take medication? Is society responsible for not finding a place where he could live, in a dignified way, away from his family ? I am writing this as a person who has lived part of the last few months in fear, due to a system that can not treat a family member (due to the wish not to infringe on his rights), and which simultaneously has no way to protect him from hurting himself.(If I leave the situation, he will probably die... so I walk a thin tightrope between protecting myself -and I am- and waiting for the current storm to pass. Yes, sometimes there is little that can be done, but try living in fear for your life and wonder how many people will blame the victim if I am wrong in any of my calculations.

Anonymous said...

But a person with psychosocial disabilities who chooses to not take certain medication is not necessarily abdicating responsibility or making a morally incorrect choice. What many people outside the system fail to realize is that certain categories of medications (neuroleptics for people with schizophrenia, for example) may be much riskier and far more dangerous than certain other categories of medication. It's not just "pop a pill and be better". There may be extreme undesirable side effects involved. Just because one person's experience with certain medications may be positive doesn't mean others will be also -- different bodies can respond very differently to the same medication. Or sometime (as with any other category of medication), the medication just doesn't work for this particular person (again, because each person's body and biochemstry is unique as a fingerprint, thus their responses to various medications are not always going to be exactly the same as all other patients)

So a person who chooses not to take certain medication for a psychosocial condition may have made this choice due to personal experience with the undesirable side effects of it, or due to reasoned concern about the high risk of these side effects. But unfortunately, some professionals and systems don't really take the time to understand patient concerns about these side effects or find ways to address these concerns or explore other, less dangerous avenues of treatment. This can leave some patients with no treatment at all, NOT because they are trying to reject all treatment but because they have made a reasoned choice to reject the one and only PARTICULAR option that others have tried to force upon them. And then the professionals refused to help them identify other options, trying to make it an all or nothing choice.

Anonymous said...

Speaking about side effects of medication, one not so rare side effect of psychiatric medication is suicidal thoughts and violent thoughts and behavior, many times medication causes this, not the mental illness.