Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Simple Wish

I just now finished doing a bullying and teasing workshop for people with disabilities. There is an hour break before I do a workshop for carers and other concerned groups. During that wait, I found a computer tucked away in the corner of the room in which I am teaching. So, I decided to use this time to write away my feelings.

Doing workshops for people with intellectual disabilities who suffer routine social violence is so emotionally difficult. Firstly, I identify with their experience at a deep level. A fat guy in a wheelchair, I expect that every time I go out I will encounter a socially negative experience. Pointing, staring, laughing, ... kids making pig faces ... adults doing fat faces ... all of it. So it's hard to spend time hearing that it happens to others, and it happens all the time. I like to tell myself that what happens to me is unique, not because I want to be the supreme victim, but because I just never want what happens to me to happen to others.

Too, as I am bullied because I am me, then the bullies won't bully those who aren't me. Well, this is so patently not true. Bullies know that I will hold myself responsible so they do too. I tell myself, I'm bullied because I'm (pick one) fat, disabled, gay, bald. So when they are asked why they bullied me, they will say, in an incredible ironic agreement, Well, he's (pick one) fat, disabled, gay, bald. So the bullying becomes just a meeting point between self hatred and another's bigotry.

Secondly, I find this hard because the stories that are told in these workshops are so incredibly painful. Words are flung, words have stung, people radiate pain. They live smaller and smaller lives. Going out less. Going fewer places. Living in rather than living out. Real lives living in captivity.

But today, in this group. When we talked about solutions. Many had some. They began to share and talk amongst each other. Giving ideas, good ones. Strategies, effective ones. Mostly, they realized that they were not alone. Me, too, there was a moment for me, like the others that we looked around and realized that we were all safe and that we were all understood.

'It's good when it's like this,' one fellow said.

I agreed.

One man spoke, quietly, that he wishes for just a few moments where he could live without fear, where he could go out and not anticipate violence. Just a few minutes.

Why is that too much to ask for?

I'm not sure, but right now, in the world we live in, it seems to be.


Anonymous said...

Just wondering Dave, you have said clearly many times that you believe in people living within the community, rather than the previous situation of institutionalisation, however this is a clear down side to community living, I assume that this is the lesser of two evils in comparison to institutionalisation in your opinion? (if considering what it could potentially be rather than necessarily what it was) I have never experienced institutions so I am just genuinely interested to hear the reasons.

Education: Exploring Online Learning said...

Dave, thank you for the work you do. I hope my daughter, as an adult, will be able to say something similar to the man you mentioned last week, "look how much things have changed!"

Elasti-Girl said...

I appreciate what you do, Dave, and that you are sharing your experiences with us.

Shan said...

Nah. Your premise is faulty.

You are bullied because THEY are THEM, not because you are you.

In the '90s there was a massive outcry against blaming the victims of rape, because it implied the victim could have changed what happened if only she
- hadn't dressed that way
- had been more careful about her ride home
- had parked elsewhere
- had remembered to lock her door

Saying you're bullied because of something you are, leads logically to "If I could change that thing about myself, they wouldn't bully me." And that's tragically destructive.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,

I had to think about this post over and over again.

Truth is: if I would met you I probably would give in to my first thoughts which are very visual and judging. Words like: gay, fat, wheelchair bound, etc... would probably arise in my brain.

But I already started to learn not to trust my first thoughts and my first impression. Not even to judge someone because he seems not "as intelligent, beautifull, interesting" as society (and including myself) wants the average human being to be.

To learn to let people live as they are and not to judge them is something I even have to do with my own image in my head.

Sometimes I wish that to every person in this world "who does not fit the image of the fully functioning person" ther should be one able bodied put into the position to try and feel and understand him/her.

It takes so much effort not to judge and not make someone feel bullied...

I agree with Shans idea that we have to learn to accept ourselves as we are, everyone a unique and precious human being, to stop this thinking process.

Dave, even though I never met you, I overcome many bad thoughts, because you are the one being very ethical, I can ask and learn from. And for this reason even though you might seem to be fat (being gay is nothing wrong for me, neither bein in a wheelchair) I respect you. And because I respect you I learn to respect and defend others. And sometimes I even manage to love my "insufficent" self.


Andrea S. said...

To the first anonymous:

It is worth keeping in mind that institutions are not automatically going to protect people from potential bullying or judgment. Staff who work in institutions are just as prone to the kind of negative attitudes and biases that some people may exhibit in the rest of society. Of course there are good staff too. But the people who do feel and think this way are vested with a lot of power over the people they are meant to care for *simply by nature of being in an institution*. Given that institutions don't actually "protect" people quite as well as many seem to assume, plus many of the down sides experienced in even the most kindest institutions (such as the loss of freedom and autonomy that go with being told when to wake, when to go to bed, when and what to eat, etc.), I see little downside to community living that isn't shared in common with institutionalization.

No, I have not experienced institutionalization either. But I've learned things by listening to people who have. One blogger, Amanda Baggs, who has experienced it particularly during her adolescence in the 1990s. A few samples that might be helpful for you to read:

Outposts in Our Heads
Extreme measures--and then some
Everything I need to know in life I learned in institutions
Intentional communites...not

Colleen said...

To Anonymous of the first response:

Institutions on the whole are not good places. As soon as you congregate people based on something society sees as a deficit you are inviting harm. In Ontario right now we have class action law suits pending. People who lived in our institutions for people with developmental disabilities are suing for the harm done to them while they were institutionalized.

I have never lived in an institution but my brother has. My parents placed him there partly to protect him from the stares and name calling. He was beaten and raped in the institution and no one was ever called accountable. He was much safer at home despite the bullying. Given the class action law suits I am certain that his experiences were not unique. Dick Sobsey's book on violence against people with disabilities gives a good indictment against institutions.

I do agree with Shan - it is more about the bully than it is about the person being bullied. But I also think that is hard to remember when you are on the receiving end of it. It is only human to wonder, what is it about me that draws this kind of attention? We don't wonder about what qualities the bully has that make him/her a bully. We tend to accept that there is something about us that is a worthy target.

I think in our society we have lost the ability to love people just the way they are, to love ourselves just the way we are, to see that there is a perfection in each person as they are. Dave, you are perfect just as you are, fat, bald, gay, in a wheelchair, fabulous sense of humour, great capacity for empathy, incisive intellect, great teacher, perfect to do just what it is you are meant to do here. So are we all. My daughter taught me that.

Anonymous said...

I sooooo appreciate everyone's comments. I know it gets discouraging hearing our problems, and looking at your own; but, there's strength in numbers, and by knowing and accepting that we're not alone, we can draw on one another's strength.

I know when I learned how to drive, for the first time we went to cross the very narrow bridge, going home (it was made in the day of horse and buggy), I mentioned to my instructor that I had never gone across the bridge before, and it was during a busy time of the day. He immediately told me to "look well ahead" ... basically way into the horizon ... to the far end of the bridge. And you know, I made it across that very narrow bridge for the first time without freaking out or stopping the car. By looking ahead, and "well ahead", I was able to keep my composure and sanity and keep going. I think that's what we're all doing.

I agree too that we shouldn't take ownership for the problem; but, in society, at least in my area, it is reality ... and discrimination is real. What I taught my son during even these past 7 days is that certain things may happen because of the situation or needs that he has associated with his disability; BUT, when wrongdoing occurs, the situation which occurred may be a direct result of his need to have "such and such" person with him; but, when this person does wrong, it is NOT his fault. He's had a rough few weeks, and has blamed himself, to the point of some self-harm, and I needed to get that message into him, that it's not his fault .. the problem lies with the other individual and their choices.

We really appreciate everyone here :)
Elizabeth & Andrew

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Andrea and Colleen for your responses, I was nervous about asking the question because I was worried it sounded ignorant and because people can feel very strongly about such issues, and also its not like I don't know in general some of the major problems with institutionalisation which I would obviously agree with. But I think its important to debate (in a respectful way) and ask the questions, and also I have worked with experienced colleagues before who have worked in institutions and now with people in the community and do wonder about this issue, and the pros and cons (and these are professionals I respect so I would consider their views.)

Thank you for your interesting responses, and I'll check the references out. I see Dave's blog as a really good way of sharing and learning.

Rebecca (first anonymous - sorry for forgetting to put a name before)

Andrea S. said...

Thank you, Rebecca. I appreciate your openness to new perspectives.

It occurred to me in reviewing these comments that I forgot to point you to another website with information about some of the more distressing things that happen in many institutions--not just in developing countries but also in the US and elsewhere in developed countries: