Sunday, May 01, 2011

Changing Hoods

Disability is not a free pass.

I watched astonished today as a woman with a disability was horrid to a passerby. Nasty. Mean. Purposefully hurtful. When she noticed that she had an audience and that those watching were appalled by her behaviour, she announced that no one understands how difficult it can be to live with a disability and that sometimes she gets angry and frustrated. Just as people's faces began to soften, I spoke up, 'Well I understand and it's not an excuse to behave like a mean spirited spoiled child.'

I shocked myself.

She looked shocked too and said, with real meaning, 'You're right, I'm sorry.' In that moment she regained her dignity, heartfelt honest apology does that.

I think that it's dangerous to let abusers explain away hurtful behaviour. I find it horrid to read a story about someone who has killed a whack of people, or barbecued their neighbours for lunch, and then get the standard, 'but they were hurt as a child'. What? I say again, WHAT? I get that people have tough lives and difficult experiences but their personal behaviour involves a degree, a modicum of CHOICE. Now this woman wasn't packing an Uzi or anything, but she delivered verbal darts that were harsh and cruel. Abuse is abuse.

As a therapist working with offenders I didn't let them ever play the 'I'm a victim so therefore I victimize' game with me. It wasn't helpful. What it was, though, was a perfect way of throwing me off the scent. Of distracting themselves from the fact that THEY did something HORRID. You may find this hard to believe but I managed to hold people accountable and through the process of accepting responsibility came a desire to learn strategies to be able to make new and different choices. Being tough isn't the same as being mean - and to this day I am greeted warmly by most who've I've provided service to. I guess what I'm saying is that having a difficult day does not make it OK for someone to hurt another person - purposefully.

Disability comes with frustrations. But then, so does parenthood. And, of course, so does employment. Marriage, now there's a pressure cooker for you. Yeah. Life is hard. Adulthood is difficult. Everyone who wants to can find an excuse for treating a store clerk like dirt - or a waiter like a piece of shit - or a passerby like trash.

When the woman realized that she had just been purposely mean, I didn't like her blaming disability for the choice that she made. I didn't like the audience to her meanness to become automatically forgiving. Disability is already burdened with enough stereotypes without adding 'causes people to go socially rabid' to the list.

When I'm an asshole, I'm an asshole. I choose to be one. I don't feel like it's a choice at the time of course, there's always a cause - but, in fact, I always do have a choice and I sometimes make the wrong one. But you know, I made the choice to be an asshole just as often, if not moreso, when I was a walking, talking, non-disabled person. Disability, and it's frustrations, is not the elixir that turned this Jekyll into that Hyde.

You may think, and some will of course, that I was mean to speak up at that moment. But I wanted to throw water on the idea that disability gives people a day pass from civility.

And so there. My two cents worth. Give me your four cents worth. Maybe we'll get enough comments to add up to a buck or two and we can use it to buy a special bus to transport people from the 'victim hood' to that place where I long to live ... the 'adult hood'.


Kristin said...

Good for you Dave. I've long thought that people were to quick to blame bad behavior on bad shit in their past. My husband is a kind, thoughtful man who goes out of his way to be nice to people in service positions. If you went by things that happen in your past, he should have grown up to be the person up in the clock tower with a rifle. He has a bio dad who beat the crap out of his mom and him. The same ass clown tried to kidnap my husband and his siblings just to spite his (by then) ex-wife (my current mother-in-law). But, he put that history behind him and grew up to be the kind of man I wanted to have a family with.

People forget that, as adults, we MUST take responsibility for our behavior and can not blame the ass clowns in our past for how we behave.

Hannah Ensor said...

Excellent and thought provoking blog. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

The wheeliecrone says -

You are right, Dave. It is quite simple, really. You and I are adults. Your behaviour is your responsibility. My behaviour is my responsibility. And abusive behaviour is wrong.
You were right to point out to that woman that her behaviour was unacceptable. She had played the "wheelchair card" and vertical people are at a loss to counter that "You don't know what it's like ..." whine. How fortunate that you happened along at the right time to put an end to her self-justification.

Becoming Liberamente said...

hear hear. Nothing gives people an excuse to be rude to others. Everybody faces challenges in life. I read somewhere "be kinder than necessary. Everyone is facing challenges"

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your candor! I have worked with one woman who used a wheelchair who was miserable and spiteful to anyone who had the misfortune to cross her path. She ultimately committed suicide - and the sad part was that she was never able to come to peace with herself (never mind those around her). Better to stare those demons in the face than to go through life lashing out at everyone who comes your way!

Laurie said...

Well said Dave!

Kristine said...

I'm glad you gave her that reminder. Even as a kid, I remember being aware that the disabled weren't held to the same social standards as others. I noticed that I rarely enjoyed playing with other kids in wheelchairs, because they tended to act so spoiled. And I noticed the adults in wheelchairs who were so rude to the people around them, bossing people around without a please or thank you. I was terrified of growing up to be that same unpleasant person! As an adult, I understand better why it's so easy to become "that person." Sometimes it's really hard to keep the happy face on, when you're just tired of dealing with the little things, of needing help with everything, of feeling a major lack of control over your own life, of feeling unwelcome in society. Sometimes it's hard, and when I occasionally slip in my own behavior, I hope others will understand at least a little. I think we all need others to grant us a pass now and then. But I should NEVER get to grant myself the pass. If I'm intentionally using my disability to justify my bad choices, then I'm on a very dangerous, and lonely, road. Not only am I offending the people around me, but I'm giving in. Making excuses for my behavior means that I'm giving someone or something else credit for having control over me. And isn't the entire point of the disability rights movement to allow us to maintain power over our own choices and our own lives?

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much Dave! All of us have a responsibility to be civil and I agree wholeheartedly that hurts are not a reason to hurt others. I know that bad things have happened to all of us. What we choose to do with the hurt determines our future. Recently I have been dealing with a young person who has an excuse for every mean thing she does. It gives her pause when I tell her "nice try" instead of buying into the tales of woe as a reason to hurt others. None of us have a right to take out our pain on whoever crosses our path.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes!
But who can point this out? Can a white person tell me as a person of colour that i have a chip on my shoulder and I'm bitching? Can i as a service provider say to someone with a learning disability that they have to be nicer to people?
M hit a woman at the bus stop last week when she was stressed and anxious and was encouraged to write a letter of apology to the woman, not to send, but to help her to process her emotions, she had said she felt sorry about what she did and she wrote this in the letter.
I felt 'grr' about the lack of space to acknowledge the stuff that I'm sure happens to D every day, as a person who will always and immediately be recognised as someone with a learning disability, that i guess contributed to her stress and anxiety.
I'm totally with you on adulthood not victimhood. But I'm not sure how to contribute to this as an 'ally', I can have in my head the vision of space for adulthood and work to make that space. But i don't (yet) know about talking about moving in to that space, in the context of the power/powerless dynamic.

rickismom said...

I know that one of my chief exasperations is when Ricki acts out in public and people start interfering when I point out to her that she is not behaving properly. People will interupt "She didn't mean it", "Oh, but I'm sure she is SO cute" etc.

Myrrien said...

One of the most significant experiences for me as a parent, not the parent of a child with health issues or someone with mobility issues myself but as a parent, was coming home really late from work one night having dealt with a physically disabled client who had seriously assaulted their parent. Why? Because for the first time in their 18 years the parent had said no to something they wanted and the only way my client knew how to deal with it was to assault them. I decided that night that my own son would hear the word no on occasions, he would not be a spoilt little brat. Thankfully to date he is a generous well mannered child - lets hope it lasts.

Laura said...

i've been guilty of it, I was very angry about something that wasn't working the way I needed it to. (not disability related) I yelled at a clerk without even meaning to. I didn't notice I did it. I was with my Mom who pointed out to me she thought I was being nasty and I instantly felt like the gum on the bottom of a shoe. She was right!!!I went back and apologized. I just couldn't live with the fact that I was mean to this poor unsuspecting guy. He accepted my apology and we had a good talk about things and thanked me for taking the time to come back

Shan said...

Anonymous, regarding the question of who has the right to tell someone they should behave better...well, I could see there being awkwardness or caution as a non-disabled person wanting to pull a disabled person up short, but on the other hand, one could argue that THAT is, in itself, prejudicial. Approaching it as 'you're a human who is not respecting society's codes of conduct, and I am a human who will remind you of them', it matters less whether the speaker is disabled. That's how all sorts of people 'get away with' all sorts of behaviours - people look at them and judge what their excuse must be, based on their outward self. If I don't expect politeness out of certain groups of people, I think that means that I don't think them either capable or considerate enough to extend courtesy and play by the rules...which is maybe selling them short. I have high expectations of my kids for the same reason.

Dave, excellent post.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Thanks again, all, for a great discussion. Do you find, sometimes, that you think that you are alone with your thoughts ... and then find out that others completely agree? That's what happened here for me, 'thanks'.

Ettina said...

I think there's a difference between explaining some behavior and excusing it. Abusers *are* more likely to have been abused, and understanding this is important to preventing and treating abusive behavior. But that doesn't mean it's OK for them to engage in that behavior.

Dave Hingsburger said...

Ettina, thanks for your comment, however it is an 'urban myth' that abusers were abused. It's just a stereotype that is dangerous to further into discourse regarding the psychology of those who hurt. Most people who were victimized never, ever, ever, victimize another person. Many who do victimize were not ever hurt - but know they get sympathy if the say they were victims. I'm pretty sure of the research in this area.

Ettina said...

Not all abusers were abused, and most abused people do not become abusers. However, the link does exist:

Since one abuser can abuse up to several hundred victims, victims are far more common than abusers. As a result, studies of victims seldom find that they are abusers. However, studies of abusers generally find that 50-70% of them were abused.

Kasie said...

Yes! Yes! Yes! Dave, this is so timely! I must share it with my daughter. We had a mutually awkward moment with a man who had a rude and scary outburst, at a function we were co-facilitating recently! She was startled and I was appalled. It happens. I know. But, I had difficulty explaining to her how I felt about I thought it was unacceptable even though he has reasons for his struggles.


What Shan said!!