Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Shame In Waiting

Image description: Scene of the crime - a layout of the door to the left, then three pieces of furniture in a slight semi circle and the post just off centre to the right. Dave sits in a wheelchair between the post and the chair on the right.

Are disabled people living, breathing versions of the Rorschach test?

I wonder.

This morning Joe was coming to work with me because he sits on our tool development committees because of both his interest and his incredible ability to proof documents. I know some of you are thinking that maybe I should employ him to proof this blog, but, don't get your hopes up, you are stuck with me. Anyways, we came down the elevator and I got off at the lobby. It's not accessible, underground, to get to the car. So Joe goes and gets the car and I wait in the lobby for him.

I always park when waiting, for Joe, or the bus, or anything else that requires waiting for, in the same spot. They have furniture set out for people to use and in the manner in which they are arrayed, where I sit simply would be the place you'd put another chair. I'm between the big post in the lobby and one of the big chairs. That's it. I'm waiting. I thought it was clear that I was waiting.

Until this morning.

Actually just minutes ago.

I was there, checking emails on my phone. A young man, coming out of the building, sees me there alone. He comes over and says, 'I always see you waiting here.' I look up, prepared, uninvited conversations are not often fun, and said, 'Yes, I'm waiting for the car?' He looks concerned, 'Do you hide behind the post because you are, kind of, um, ashamed?' He must have seen my shock because he flinched even before I spoke. "No, I sit here because I'm waiting. It's the obvious place to sit don't you think?" He muttered something and rushed out. I had the sense he was going to give me diet and exercise advice.

I was waiting.

But when disabled people are in the picture, there must be subtext, there must be meaning. "Shame" is an easy 'go to' when it comes to disability because we've been shrouded in shame for a long time.

But.

I wasn't feeling shame.

I was waiting.

Then I wonder if I should be feeling shame, and know I'm emotionally reacting to someone who put the word into a picture where it didn't belong and therefore into my mind where it didn't belong.

However it didn't feel uncomfortable there.

Then I had the emotional job of getting rid of any residual shame so I could go about my day.

Being disabled in public is like being a test for how others view the world of disability and your place in it.

Glad to be of service ... not.

4 comments:

Frank_V said...

My first thought is: Why would he think you feel ashamed?
My second thought is: Even if he thought that, why on earth would he SAY IT OUT LOUD?
My third thought is: He's a condescending jerk!

The rest of my thoughts become much cruder, so, I'll stop here.

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

You can't win, can you?

We are definitely a conversation starter. Now if people would only remember it's not a good idea to let the first thought that comes to their head out their mouths!

We can't stop are instinctive reactions, not without a lot of practice (sigh - I practice continuously, and still have those reactions I need to monitor). But we can learn to be more aware of what saying things is: a communication to an 'other' who may or may not be thinking the same thing. And because the communication is meant to cause a reaction in the other, it's a good idea to moderate that by doing a little empathy first: "If I were in that chair, would I want someone saying to me what I'm about to say to him?" or, better still, "If I were in that chair, what would I want someone to say to me?"

Then the answer would be clear: 'Good morning.'

There's a reason for these social conventions - they let us size up our opponents in conversation before we drop the big statements on them. But of course we have to let the 'other' be human first, don't we?

Ron Arnold said...

"Being disabled in public is like being a test for how others view the world of disability and your place in it."

That.

Thank you.

As a non-disabled individual - it's succinct statements like that that serve as a nice bracing slap to heighten my awareness. I truly appreciate it and will be mindful not to make folks my personal ink blotter . . . .

ecodrew said...

What a turd.

If I see a coworker/friend/student/kid (very rarely strangers, because I'm an introvert) waiting for awhile after business hours/school, I'll occasionally stop to casually ask if they're OK/need anything. Because, sometimes things go wrong, rides get delayed/forget... and the person could use help so they're not sitting vulnerable alone. They usually smile & say they're good, and we go our separate ways. But, that guy continuing to badger you with asinine questions?! I can't even.