Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Road Rorschach Test

I am a bigot.

This acknowledgement causes me pain. I'm making it public because I want to change.

Sometimes it's hard to be intentional in your interactions and even harder in your interpretations of your world. The instantaneous judgement you make of another, the judgments that happen, seemingly before thought, certainly without thought, those, where there is no time for intentionality.

We were driving home after work. We were approaching a very busy intersection. There is construction, the road narrows, cars are everywhere. Because of the construction and because of the slow traffic there has been an increase in pedestrians zig zagging through the cars from one side of the road to the other. We're used to this and Joe is very cautious before moving forward. They can dash out right in front of you. Often we say things that are quite vulgar when we get startled by the sudden appearance of a fellow human in front of the grill of our car. But that is usually that.

Yesterday, the same thing happened.

With a difference.

Or rather the pedestrian had a difference.

She had Down Syndrome.

She stepped in front of our car, waited and then dashed through two more lanes of heavy traffic, just like all the other pedestrians have done over the weeks that this construction has been going on. She made it safely to the other side.

My assessment?

My instant reaction?

Well, it wasn't to swear or make a nasty comment like we do with other pedestrians who scare us that way.

No.

I immediately questioned if she should be there at all! Who did the travel training with her? Didn't she recognize the danger? Why wasn't she crossing appropriately at the lights? That's the safe way to cross this road. Has anyone monitored her skills and seen that she was no longer following safety rules.

Now, no one who crosses the road like that is following safety rules and not one other person that we've seen do this has made me question their right to be in the community on their own without supervision. But, her disability prompted me to put her in a special category where suddenly her freedom was up for grabs. Where her right to make the same decision that hundreds of other people do was eliminated. Where liberty, and choice and rights were no longer part of the equation.

What the hell?

In my defence I was sick about my reaction moments after I had it. I recognized that I was seeing her differently, thinking about her differently and evaluating her as a citizen differently.

WHAT?

What?

How do I expect to challenge people's preconceptions of what disability means, if I haven't managed my own.

My own instantaneous thought showed me the depth of the bigotry and prejudice I hold.

I'm lost, I don't know how to fight this.

Help.

9 comments:

Liz Miller said...

Our biases are deeply ingrained, part of the very air we breathe, and so the fact that you noticed that you had those thoughts is huge. Use it. Use it in your classes.

That's how you fight it.

Nathan Hoover said...

You're already fighting it. Your consciousness of it and then speaking openly about it is a huge step. We all do this type of devaluation of others...it is the practice of being mindful of our thoughts that is the constant fight.

Ron Arnold said...

I understand what you're talking about. I like to think of it as the benevolent tyranny of the helping mind. It goes into problem solving mode for someone it recognizes may have a problem to be solved. Thing is - she had a problem (crossing the street) and solved it in the same way many others did in that situation. She was unsafe, risk taking and daring and solved her problem. How excellent is that - right? Except . . . except . . . yeah I get it.

I agree with Nathan - you're on it. Stay on it. Heaven knows - I gotta keep on it myself. You're not alone.

Namaste said...

Congratulations, you're human! However, most humans are devoid of the ability to accept their shortcomings and actively seek to change them. Pat yourself on the back that you are cursed with self-awareness.

Kelly said...

You fight it by acknowledging it, by questioning it, by questioning yourself.

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

If she had been a child, an animal, or an old person, you might have had the same reaction, because we instinctively protect those who are or appear to be vulnerable.

Possibly you also considered that her reactions might be slower than those of the other idiots doing the same things. As you'd have the same reaction if an older woman with a walker stepped out into traffic, frustrated by the lack of proper stops by drivers.

These are not bad things.

If you had gotten out of the car or Joe had to DO something because she had Down Syndrome, that might have been more problematic. But I suspect she was gone before you had a chance to act.

There's nothing wrong with a reaction happening, though I've been working all my life on some of my automatic reactions, and I think I'm making headway most of the time.

Note that you immediately CAUGHT your reaction - and did something with it as a learning experience. Bigots don't even notice they are bigots.

Frank_V said...

Self-awareness can really suck sometimes. Like tripping and falling down, it happens to all of us. All we can do is pick ourselves up, and try not to fall again, until the next time we trip and fall.

Sounds kind of pointless, but truly, it is not. The point is not to NEVER trip, but to always get back up, and do better. And you do Dave, we always see you trying to do better. Thanks for your humility, and for sharing.

NicoleKatherineS said...

There is nothing to fight. They say resistance moves slow and going with the flow can move mountains.

My suggestion is to try looking through a different lens. You asked, “How do I expect to challenge people’s perceptions of what disability means, if I haven’t managed my own.”

Half of your answer to that question is in the first half of your writing. You stated that some people react to things in ways they shouldn’t, but do so involuntarily, “where there is no time for intentionality.”

The first step is forgiveness. Forgiveness to yourself and forgiveness to others.

I believe part of the reason you advocate for disability is to educate people so we can have an inclusive community?

There is a global stigma behind disability, a universal thought, we still look more through the lense of disability rather than ability. Even our language we use as professionals…….
DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITY.

Most of us still feel like we should protect in this field.

We have ever so lightly scratched the surface of ability and acceptance. Can you imagine if our universal lens looked at ability nationwide in everybody!!!!

To get back on track….. your “problem” lies in universal thought. Dave, you, I and everybody else….. we are one…. all human beings, making our way through life some healthier in different ways others not so much.

Even kind hearts with great intentions make mistakes by looking through a lens we are raised and conditioned to look through…. Does that make us evil in need of assistance? Should we fight against such wicked ways? Or should we be loving and open? Forgiving and vulnerable…. Accepting that we don’t know everything and that each person we meet has something to teach us…. If only… if only we could connect. You a have heart…with good intentions……the question is….. how vulnerable can you make it? How vulnerable can any of us be? Forgiveness is the key. I wouldn’t recommend fighting anything.

I would recommend forgiving yourself and be grateful for your self-awareness. Most of us have great hearts but lack of forgiveness for ourselves and others.

The second half of the answer: shift universal thought in yourself and in everybody, but approach the matter with love.

Parvathy Nair said...

I express this opinion may be because I am a sort of bigot. The meaning of freedom doesn't mean that were allowed to do anything that we need. But like Albert Camus says ''Freedom nothing but a chance to be better''.