Monday, February 07, 2011

A Responsible Republic: A Blog About Hope And Change


Sometimes it's hard to hold on to hope.

The battles we fight as members of the disability community seem endless. There are very few victories to celebrate - even though there are hundreds of thousands of individual victories - yet we continue on in a quest to build an inclusive and welcoming society. We hold on to the idea that 'disability' need not be reason to be subject to constant social betrayal. That 'disability' not be a predictor of failure, of poverty, of violence. That 'disability' become an aspect of humanity to celebrate, to take pride in, to add to the formation of a culture of tolerance, acceptance and belonging. I believe the voice, the unique voices, of those of us with disabilities; of those of us who parent, of those who provide care add to the human chorus. That we each have things to say, sometimes independently of each other, sometimes in unison.

Yet it seems that our voices are not clearly heard, that our concerns are not understood and that, most worrying, our victimization - by funders, by media moguls, by thugs on the street have become accepted by all but us. Those of us who raise voices in protest expect little reward, other than the reward of having spoken, the reward of knowing that what could be done was done, the reward of knowing that assent could not be assumed by personal silence. Therefore, when something happens, when someone listens, when there is a response ... there can be a sense of shock. Not like cold water on a tired face, but like a dying fire must feel at a fresh shovel of coal.

That's what I felt when I got home from work on Friday. Joe went to park the car and I went to check emails, when Joe came back up, we had to go out to get some chores done. Automatically, I clicked my way into my 'inbox' at Hotmail. I glanced down the list of emails telling me that I'd won millions only to find a name that stunned me. Allan Hawco. Sharp-eyed readers will remember a post that I wrote about a television programme The Republic of Doyle. Joe and I had watched the DVD box set and in one of the episodes, late on in the season, the character of Jake Doyle used the 'r word' to demean another character in the show. We were stunned. The blog post was written shortly after, full of anger, I had liked the character, I had thought him ill served by placing this word in his mouth. I didn't believe that series creator, writer and star would ever read my blog and if he did that he would take its contents seriously and even if he did that he would never respond.

I was wrong on all counts.

The long and very personal email from Mr. Hawco clearly indicated that he had indeed read the blog post and that he had taken it's content seriously. I'd gotten there late, however, as Joe and I had watched the DVD box set. He said that he'd received a number of letters complaining about the inappropriate word used on the show and that he was deeply sorry for the pain that he had caused, assured that he simply had not been made aware that this word was reviled by the disability community, that there had been no ill intent in the using of the word in the show. His words in the letter were raw and full of an emotion I didn't expect - regret. He took responsibility for the use of the word and then vowed two things in the email. First that he would take that word out of his personal lexicon and that the show would not use the word again and would veer away from that kind of humour.

Mr. Hawco said that he didn't expect his email to change my mind or opinion of him or the show but that he wanted to respond personally to the blog post anyways. He like me, forgot that words have power. I did not expect change to result from my blog post - but it happened. He did not expect that I would change my opinion based on his letter - but it did. People communicating honestly with each other tends to bring about change.

I was asked in the email not to post his letter to me. The letter was written as a 'person to person' communication as was not intended for publication. That he trusted me with his honest thoughts honoured me. I of course will never publish the contents of that letter. He did say that he would have no objection to me writing about getting the letter and referring to the content, I wrote him and told him that I would indeed like to write about our correspondence.

The reason I so wanted to write about this interchange between Mr. Hawco and myself, was because of what it represents in the much larger picture of the battle for recognition and respect (the two 'r words' we need) of the disability community. Several things to notice:

1) Mr. Hawco stated that he'd received a number of letters as a result of his use of that word on his show. This means that all over the country there are those who still have the energy and the sense of purpose to speak out - to wish to be heard. This means that there are those who have not been silenced by the constant diminishing of our concerns as a community of people.

2) As soon as Mr. Hawco became aware of what that word represented to people with disabilities, to their families and to their care providers, he understood that there was an issue here. He stated that he did not like to think that he had inflicted unnecessary pain on others. He took the concerns seriously because he understood the power of words to hurt. This means that there must be a growing understanding that words that hurt those with disabilities are not dissimilar to those which disparage other groups, other minorities.

3) The fact a simple blog post could make it through the degrees of separation between two individuals means that there is a network of people out there who ensure that messages do get through. That this electronic media has made the world smaller and more connected. That what we have to say here, on blogs like Rolling Around in My Head do matter. It's important to not diminish the power, therefore the responsibility, we do have, each of us, to make social change.

4) The conversation, if two emails each could be called a conversation, between Mr. Hawco and myself lead to a mutual understanding and an increase in respect. Particularly from me to him. I think it's tough to write to a stranger and apologize. But he did. I had been really angry at the show and the writers, but I felt that I needed to immediately put that anger away. Giving an apology is important. Accepting one is even moreso.

In one of my notes to Mr. Hawco I said that it was difficult for me to separate him, the actor and person, from Jake Hawco, the character and creation. I kind of knew one - the one that didn't exist in the real world and yet I had no idea of the other. I had to struggle a bit to keep the two separate in my head. This is a tribute to both the writing and the acting in the show - believable and likable characters. I felt that Mr. Hawco had reacted in kind of the way that I thought his character would have reacted: 'Oh shit, I'm sorry, I didn't know.' And then Jake would simply move on. I intend to do the same.

I now look forward to season two, on DVD (we go to bed at 8) and will speak positively of the show and both the characters created and the characters of those doing the creating.

A personal 'Thanks' to Mr. Hawco.

Thanks for hearing the voices of our community. Thanks even more for listening. But, ultimately, thank you for being willing to make a change.

Finally, thanks, for the renewal of hope.


Kristin said...

Wow, what an incredible response to get.

Clay said...

"The fact a simple blog post could make it..."

But it wasn't a simple blog post. It was a post written by one hell of an advocate! Very effective.

Anonymous said...

I'm sitting here shaking my head in awe at what happened in response to your blog!
Truly amazing! How big is that Dave!
love Linda ( LinMac in Dublin)

Rachel said...

I really think that for most people, they're operating more from a position of ignorance than active malice. Ignorance is curable, after all.

The tricky bit is, of course, to speak up in ways that help dispell the ignorance while remaining dignified. You done good, Dave!

Shan said...

Yay! I like his lack of defensiveness.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Well done! And to Mr Hawco - well done. I agree with Shan that his lack of defensiveness is admirable as is his willingness to listen and to learn and to change. I does give one hope!


Mom said...

I'm one of the people who wrote about the use of that word on Republic Of Doyle. A proud Newfoundlander, I am a dedicated fan of ROD and was devastated when that word was included in their dialogue. I am heartened (but not surprised) by Allan Hawco's humility and sincerity. I would expect nothing less from a Newfoundlander ;)