Monday, February 28, 2011

Rude One, Rude Two

I backed into my place, at the opera playing at our local cinema, only to be spoken to harshly and rudely by a woman who indicated that her friend, a wheelchair user, sits in that spot. Now, normally I don't mind moving over, I've done it before. However, the wheelchair seats are not numbered and therefore it's first come first served. Joe was unable to get a seat beside me but was one in, beside said rude woman. I said 'the seats aren't numbered' and let her know by tone and attitude that I didn't like being spoken to in such a manner, I didn't like being ordered to move by someone with no authority to do so. She softened her tone and asked politely. I moved over.

Her friend arrived in a power wheelchair and was asked by the formerly rude woman if there was enough space for her to back into place. I drive a power chair, I knew there was enough room. The woman in the power chair, pointed at me but said to her friend, 'No, he's got to move over.' Now I was just mad, who were these people and what gave them the right to be so freaking nasty. I said, calmly and politely, 'I will move but only if you ask nicely and say please.' I know, I know, that's how you'd speak to a child but when someone behaves like a child - its kind of apt. Besides, and forgive me for saying this, if anyone should know what it's like to be spoken about as if you weren't there, it's someone else with a disability.

She stared at me. Offended. I smiled back pleasantly. I could see she was calculating what to do. Then, she said, 'Would you mind moving over a couple of inches, please.' I said, 'I certainly would move.' And I did. Beside me was a walker that turned out to belong to the first of the two rude women. She got up to walk around a bit at intermission and asked, nicely, for me to roll it over to her. I did.

I'm probably going to get lambasted for saying this, but sometimes there can be a kind of selfishness that can develop from the disability experience. There can be, I know this from my own personal mishaps, an assumption that my needs outweigh the needs of others. After asking over and over for help, it's hard not to develop a demanding tone. Moreover, since some, if not many, people let those of us with disabilities get away with socially inappropriate behaviour - 'poor us after all' - we may not get called on our attitude or our behaviour as often or as firmly as if we didn't have a disability.

I know I deal with shit all the time from others, but I also know I behave like a shit sometimes myself. People applaud me for standing up for myself against rudeness and, on the other hand, can be appalled with someone standing up to me for my own rudeness. I don't want to become an A-hole. I don't want to be given an exemption from social expectations. I really don't.

During the intermission, Joe came and leaned up against the wall beside me and said, 'I can't believe you made her say please.' I smiled and said, 'I can't believe that she didn't wallop me.' But we both agreed that I would have reacted to non-disabled people speaking to me that way and to do differently is simply discrimination - dressed up pretty, but discrimination nonetheless.

What sayst you all?


Clay said...

Yeah, life's too short to be an A-hole, or to put up with one.

Kristine said...

I fully support you in that. I remember being a kid, and noticing that I didn't usually like being around adult women in wheelchairs. I'd met so many who just seemed bitter, unpleasant, and didn't know the words please or thank you, I also was bothered by how many kids I'd met with disabilities who just struck me as spoiled brats. I didn't want to be around them. I promised myself I'd never be like that! It's important to be strong and assertive. It's ok to be emotionally honest and not wear the happy face every single second. But it's also important to be nice! For my own well-being, as much as for everyone else's!

Anonymous said...

The wheeliecrone says -
Yup. Some people who have mobility problems also have personality problems. That is unfortunate for them, but it does not give them the right to drip poison all over everyone they meet. The two women behaved rudely. You called them on it. Politely. Pleasantly. Firmly.
Well done, Dave.

Anonymous said...

In my work, I am not allowed to ask for or expect manners; it is "against recipients rights". So I move along being "demanded" to assist, burped on, passed gas on
(literally)no please, no thank you - ever!!! I have often thought I am doing no "favors" (and please don't vilify me for that word useage this time)in not asking for the same kindness and manners in return that I give.I am NOT asking for gratitiude for a paid position, but simple human kindness - and the same dignity I am expected to give in return. AS Clay and Kristine said so perfectly, "lifes too short to be an A hole"...."But it's also important to be nice! For my own well-being, as much as for everyone else's"!

clairesmum said...

Rude is rude, no matter what the circumstances. Your column explains clearly where that "it's ok for me to be demanding" attitude comes from. Kristine's comment explains how that attitude/behavior ends up leading to increased social isolation for disabilities.
"Please" and "thank you" and a genuine smile and a kind or neutral tone of voice make all the difference in how it feels to interact with another person. I don't mean 'fake nice' but just basic human respect.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

What you are talking about is what my mother used to call common courtesy - except it isn't all that common anymore.


Anonymous said...

You called them on what they should have been called on! Good for you!

Anonymous said...

Well said. I know that it has been pointed out to me once or twice that someone was only trying to be nice and I was very rude in return. I know that I am most often guilty of rudeness after someone insisting they need to assist me and then however unintentionally, making my task harder. The next person who does the slightest little thing has I am ashamed to say gotten told off once or twice. Displaced anger much?? :D
I have to work really really hard some times not to be rude.
I credit my family with this as they were determined not to let me be one of those bratty spoiled kids I went to school in my early years with. My Mom will still call me out on it. Sometimes she's right sometimes she's not. Being polite does not = allowing myself to be walked on. Mom and I see this differently. Sad thing is in my work I now see some of my contemporaries who have never grown past the bratty spoiled stage. Which makes me wonder is that why people are so rude to me from the outset? Its not right to make that leap but....
I think that's a be the change you want to see moment for me if there ever way one

MoonDog said...

chair or no chair people need to be polite in asking what they want. if we all went around demanding GIVE ME WHAT I WANT NOW! it would be bedlam. a little courtesy goes a long way. and some people just dont care. they truly dont. its GIVE ME WHAT I WANT NOW! or I will give you a tantrum and then get what I want. if only those people could learn to back off and say would you mind giving me what I want? or could you please give me what I want? they might find that they get what they want a lot more often!

Anonymous said...

Pet peeve of mine is people who do not use (as Colleen stated) common courtesy. I believe in, as simple as it treat those the way you would like to be treated. If that means I need to be called out on a not so nice attitude or being reminded to use my manners then so be it and vise versa.....The simple use of manners goes a very long way. Totally called for in this situation!!

Anonymous said...

I remember being at a funeral of a man with a disability whose rudeness was applauded as independence. He and I had had many a conversation about how he did indeed have rights but he also had responsibilities.

Perhaps if he had listened a bit more he might still be alive today.


Jordan V said...

I just wanted to say that I have been reading your blog for about a month now and I really appreciate your perspective. I work for an organization that opperates group homes and supported living programs for adults with disabilities and I am pretty new in the field. I do not have a disability nor does anyone in my family though we do have our fair share of significant mental illness which carries with it discrimination.

What I am trying to say is that your insights have helped me to know better how to treat people with disabilities with dignity and respect without belittling them.

Thanks for blogging your words are making a difference even out on the cold praries of Saskatchewan.

Ettina said...

I'd just like to point out, it doesn't seem like this was the situation here, but in some cases disability does excuse 'rudeness' - when the person doesn't know any better or isn't able to phrase it any better. I remember getting annoyed when I met a 10 year old boy with two communicate words and 5 or so prompted signs, because someone had seen fit to waste precious teaching time in training him to sign 'please' and 'thank you'. They could have much better used that time to teach him something like 'quiet' (he had auditory sensitivities) or 'finished' (he communicated wanting to stop an activity by yelling and pulling hair).

And I think not enough people know the difference between rudeness and meanness. I'd take the difference as 'if I strip away social meaning and look at the literal communication the person is making, is it offensive?'