Friday, July 22, 2016

Strangers: An unanticipated post

I don't get tired of it. I've had the power chair for many years now and I don't get tired of the independence it gives me, the way it allows me to make a contribution to my life with Joe. We had arrived home and were expecting company in just under an hour. I had to run up to the bank and Joe needed to unload the car. I hopped in my chair, came down the elevator with him and then while he headed to the car, I headed to the bank.

We are together a lot. Even so, I still love these moments where it's just me doing what needs to get done. I went to the bank, bought a lottery ticket, and then headed home. I decided to come along the north side of Bloor Street to avoid the construction constriction of narrow passageways on the south side. I regretted it almost immediately. I was like a tiny little boat going west as a tidal wave of young teens came east. There were hundreds of them. All packed together, leaving very little space for anyone else on the sidewalk.

There was nothing to do but go forward. I'm not fond of being surrounded by kids this age, I have uncomfortable memories of being that age that I don't think I need to explain. Anyway, I headed on. An odd thing happened. Three times.

I was noticed by a small group, and they immediately started the pointing and the taunting. IMMEDIATELY. I tried to maintain dignity and keep going. But, only seconds later someone near them, someone their age, a peer, turned and told them to shut up. The voice was stern, not angry, and firm, not emotional. It was just a statement. SHUT UP. The voice carried authority. I looked at the young woman that spoke and she was pretty and petite and powerful. Her voice brooked no opposition and they silence. One even mouthed to me, 'Sorry.'

Wow.

Then it happened again. Another group started and another voice, male this time, spoke up. 'That's not cool, stop it,' he said. Again, a voice of authority. A voice that said, 'I mean this.' And, amazingly, they did. They did stop. I looked at him, again, a handsome fellow, athletic looking, I nodded a thanks that he brushed away.

Wow, encore.

And then it happened one last time. They were almost by. I'm not kidding hundreds. A young woman made a fat joke to the girl she was with, I heard it. I won't repeat it. The girl who spoke was as shocked as I when her friend turned to her and said, 'Why are you being mean? No need. No need.'

Then, they were by me.

I don't know who they were, where they were from, what brought them together. But I do know that there are some parents, or teachers, or mentors that should be really, really proud of the work they've done. I also know that there are some very cool teens who have discovered a way to break the code of silent acceptance of casual cruelty.

And for that, I'm thankful.

And for that, I'm hopeful.

6 comments:

ssassefras said...

This is wonderful. Sorry the ill experiences were initiated, so glad that at least they were effectively silenced.

Frank_V said...

Too many people approach goodness, without the guts it takes to actually BE good. Thinking good thoughts is NOT enough!

If you see or hear something wrong, and unjust, then SAY SOMETHING. Stand up, and speak up!

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

Notice that it was all it took: ONE person - not even necessarily an authority figure - speaking up.

And teaching the majority of the others - the undecideds - that there was a better path than following the mean ones.

It's a start - some people are learning how to speak up.

Lack of supervision of groups lets the little leaders become little tyrants.

Unknown said...

I know what you mean about groups of teens....I'm so glad this group had some brave individuals/leaders in it....Clairesmum

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

DAVE: Feel free not to post this comment, or to modify it.

One last comment: I have had negative comments made to me online that were sharp and unexpected.

I couldn't figure out why, until I realized the person making them was most probably (through a combination of details I won't bother you with) on the autistic spectrum. I have personal experience with such people, and once I adjusted my strategy with that thought in mind, communication became clearer.

You can't always take offense at either what's said or the tone in which it is said - some people need to be cut more slack.

Tone is the biggest one for me: a person I love automatically responds in a tone which an NT interprets as scorn or anger or irritation IF things come up too fast. The tone hurt. It still does. I try to remember that, and most of the time I do. I have explained, and the explanation has been understood - but it's almost a startle response, and still happens sometimes. I don't usually get an apology.

If this person were NOT autistic, I would be enabling very bad behavior by always setting my response aside. In fact, for years I thought that's what was going on - because no one else every talked to me like that. There were tears and feelings of low self-esteem on my part.

As I said, it still hurts when it happens - MY automatic responses are NT - but I no longer feel victimized by being the one who has to ignore it. It is a fact of my life. I'm a grown woman and can handle it.

Rachel Schneider said...

And here I thought my reaction to seeing groups of young teenagers - middle school, or junior high aged - was just me.

Thanks, Dave. It's not. The kids then were jerks. But some these days aren't, and that gives me a whole lot of hope.