Monday, November 28, 2011

What We're For!?! (I Need Your Help With This One)

I've written, many times before, about my ability to use a moving sidewalk in a creative manner. As they all have signs that indicated that wheelchairs and carts are not allowed on the moving sidewalk, for a long time I dutifully went long side. Pushing myself, or being helped in pushing myself, I would look over at those riding the moving sidewalks - the same people who often think me lazy. Mostly I see the face of travel - frantic to get to a gate, bored with the hours of waiting, sadness at leaving love behind, joy at travelling towards a destination - but sometimes I get the other faces. Smug that they can ride and that I can't. It seems if the world presents a hierarchy, people will climb on it, especially as they, as hierarchy always allows get to look from the pinnacle of  'I can ride on a moving sidewalk' down on, 'You can't ride on a moving sidewalk.' This mostly just amuses me. It must be a small life and a smaller mind that sees a hierarchy that small as meaningful. But, as I do, I digress.

A long while back I realized that I could hold on to the handrail, which moves at the same speed as the sidewalk, remarkably almost as if that was planned, and hold my body straight, and ride alongside. Same speed as the moving sidewalk, without any need for assistance from another person. I like this option. Even though my arm gets tired and I sometimes have to stop for a break, I make better time and I call roll alongside, rather than in front of, those who are there to help.

Heathrow has very, very, long moving sidewalks. They are constructed perfectly for this use. Some, in other airports have a wide base that make it impossible for me to get my chair close to. But Heathrow's perfect for this. So, I latched on to the handrail and off I went. Joe was not feeling well and was simply pleased to be able to use his own steam to get himself to where he was going. He didn't have a lot of extra steam yesterday, so I was glad of the ride. I was on a very long run, not having to let go at all, when a fellow cam bustling buy on the moving sidewalk. He slowed down and looked at me with a grin, then he made a joke.

I know it was a joke because he was smiling.

No, more accurately, I knew it was a joke because his eyes were smiling.

'Now that just takes all the fun out of feeling sorry for you.' He laughed a big friendly laugh and was off.

That remark has troubled me ever since it was made.

Before I tell you how I react to it ... I'd like to here what you think ... if ever a group of people could untie the Gordian knot of this joke, it's you. So ... you first,  me tomorrow.


Anonymous said...


sometimes walking along at airports (maybe even with heavy luggage in tow) makes "us walkers" envy someone sitting comfortable in a wheelchair.

Even though I know, that I can consider myself lucky, by still being able to walk, I sometimes get very very tired.

Seeing you, sitting comfortable in your wheelchair, rolling along your partner and maybe able to chat a little, can let someone who is tired cause to envy you a little.

Even if I know, how bad it is if you can not just simply get your feet on the ground and walk if you want to!!!

Julia (from Germany)

wheeliecrone said...

What a stupidhead that man is!
What he said to you is just wrong on so many levels!
Do you exist for the sole purpose of making him feel better ?
I must say that my retort to him would probably have been based on that premise - "So sorry that I have failed to fulfil my purpose in life, making you feel better about the fact that you can walk. Because everything is all about you?"
The fact that a person can walk does not mean that his brain is connected to his mouth, does it?

Glee said...

I reckon that if his eyes were smiling then the joke was that it's a joke that anyone should feel sorry for you!

And I would say back "yeah I feel sorry for you poor buggers slogging along on foot - ya orta upgrade" with a hearty laugh lol

Glee said...

At the same time the ableoids do feed on feeling sorry for us or feeling better than us, mostly unconsciously. Huge charity empires are built on pity such as this and I hate it with a vengence!

Anonymous said...

I agree with "Glee". I think he was being kind of sarcastic/funny and it was so obvious to him that you AREN'T to be pitied. ever.

Debbie (NJ)

Ashley's Mom said...

I, too, agree with Glee.

Jan Goldfield said...

Perhaps my naiveté is showing, but I think the joke was appropriate and was one man sharing a laugh with another.

Elasti-Girl said...

I agree with Glee & with Jan. I think I'd have taken it that way as well. It seems to me the remark was more of a dig at anyone who might be feeling sorry as well as a "cheers" at your ingenuity.
Then again, whether I'm right or not (and I'll most often never know), I try not to automatically assume that everyone is making fun, or thinking negatively about me or my daughter- it seems awfully tiring. By reacting positively regardless it seems to be the most helpful reaction whether it was a negative situation or not.

lillytigre said...

"And you would feel sorry for me because " With the same grin and smiling eyes" I'm seriously less offended and less tolerant and the same time as I get older and the answer would dictate further response.

Amanda said...

I have a problem with it and I'm not at all able to articulate why.

But one thing I know -- absolutely know -- from getting remarks like that since seemingly forever.

Is that it is NOT a simple joke, nor is it an in-the-know dig at people who look on disabled people with pity.

When people say things like that there's always a note of patronizing underneath the surface, even if they themselves are unable to see the depths of their own prejudices.

(And sometimes it's their discomfort at seeing their prejudices revealed that prompts them to make a joke to cover that discomfort.)

Dave Hingsburger said...

Already you've all got me thinking. This remark bothered me ... I got that he was joking. But the content of the remark, itself, all by itself, still upsets me. I'm going to take another couple of days to think about this. I read these comments with great interest.

Anonymous said...

I am a bit confused by the remark, and I would side with it being inappropriate due to you being a complete stranger and him not knowing what your sense of humour/perspective would be, so potentially it could have been insensitive/offensive to you. The type of joke you make can depend on knowing the person well, and therefore knowing the intention/meaning behind it.


GirlJanitor said...

I agree with Amanda-he made a joke to cover the discomfort of having his own prejudice revealed to him. At least, that's my take.
Your discomfort might stem from being used as a pawn in HIS whole self-revelatory thingiemabobber; by which i mean, your were used as an agent in his self-"bettwerment". Just like disabled characters are used in films and tv shows and literature.
You suddenly became a character in someone's else's show, which is an uncomfortable place to be.

Anonymous said...

It feels nasty. Can I unpick why?

Now that just takes all the fun out of feeling sorry for you.

'feeling sorry for you'- pity is belittling. The emotion needs to be tempered with gentleness and respect. Which means not projecting it.

‘fun (in) feeling sorry for you’- that’s belittling. That’s explicitly communicating I feel good about pitying you. That’s nasty.

‘takes all the fun out of feeling sorry for you’- and an accusation of you spoil my fun thrown in there too.

Pity, belittling, and you spoil my fun. That’s three nasty things that get turned against people with disabilities in a one-liner.

I accept the speaker may be unintentionally ignorant and may have been trying to have a laugh WITH Dave. It’s still totally deplorable comment.

We all have a responsibility to own and tackle this.

yuk yuk yuk. So sorry this happened.

trainspotter said...

I have to admit that my mood at the time would have a huge impact on how I'd take that! But generally speaking, it seems a bit arrogant for a stranger to presume that you know he's joking. It may seem double-sided but it's easier for me to 'share a laugh' with those who I know share my circumstances. If they don't share, or don't entrust me with the knowledge that they share the same perspective, it feels much more like a "power push".

Anonymous said...

I misunderstood at first I thought DAVE made the remark lol.....
You amused him, how arrogant and he doesn't even know it. At least he did not pat your head or speakly loudly looking around to sneakily tell on you to your staff. :)

Belinda said...

Now me, I would have thought that he was making a joke on himself. A joke that he wouldn't have made if he truly felt sorry for anyone in a wheelchair. But maybe that's the kind of joke that isn't funny unless someone else in a wheelchair makes it--and they wouldn't. You're right--it is a Gordian knot! I give up. :)

Kristine said...

Ew, that does feel wrong. That's the kind of joke that MIGHT be acceptable if you knew each other really well, and there was no doubt that he was mocking other people's tendencies towards pity and prejudice. MAYBE.

But let me put it this way... You would NEVER go up to a random black man and say, "Wow, that takes the fun out of being afraid of you." You would NEVER go up to a random gay man and say, "Wow, that takes the fun out of being disgusted by you." You would NEVER go up to a random Latino man and say, "Wow, that takes the fun out of calling you dumb and lazy."

Ugh, I feel sick about typing any of that; it feels so wrong even coming out of my fingers. But I want to make my point. Demeaning, prejudicial statements of power and oppression aren't funny. If it's a group that society generally recognizes as oppressed, then it's not even a question. But we in the disability world haven't even achieved that much recognition. For some reason, our oppression is still a socially acceptable joke...

Andrew said...

Wow, what a thought-provoking post and following comments, profound on so many levels. Our disability ballet, in which we dance around our own social perceptions as well as those of others who may or may not have a clue about our realities. Even after 32 years of disability, I'm gonna have to mull it all over again, too, Dave.

Liz said...

I get this sort of comment a lot. They make me complicatedly angry. I consider them microaggressions. The apparent intent for it being a joke doesn't factor in to how it feels to be the target of those "jokes".

I agree completely with Anonymous who sums it up with "Pity, belittling, and you spoil my fun."

Di Di said...

Dave: "I got that he was joking. But the content of the remark, itself, all by itself, still upsets me."

This reminds me of the concept of "hipster racism," where white people will say racist things in an "ironic" way and then claim that they're "making fun of racism" and therefore not actually being racist. Because of COURSE they don't actually mean it. That's why a blatant racist remark said by a hip liberal white dude is so funny! The thing is, racist remarks said "ironically" are still racist remarks. It's not okay to say them. Because we don't live in a world where racism only exists in the past, where the idea that you would actually mean it is laughable. And no white person is so "beyond racism" that the idea that he could ever mean a racist comment is just funny and harmless. Everyone has at least some internalized, unconscious prejudice. Racism is still hurting people every day.

Similarly, the fact that this guy was joking doesn't mean you're not allowed to be affected by what he actually said. Because he still said it. And you're still living in a world with hurtful and oppressive attitudes toward people with disabilities. The tone doesn't take all that away -- abelism isn't funny.

Belinda said...

I agree with the subsequent comment to mine and even my subsequent thoughts after I left it. The man may not have even realized how wrong his joke was, but the underlying point of the joke was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Anonymous said...

I spend all day yesterday pondering this. I think sometimes there is no ill intent meant and simply a poor choice of words. I think he meant that it looked like you were having a good time. We should also be aware of judging others experiences and thinking he doesn't understand the social disability experience. Perhaps he has great knowledge of disability and so is aware that the disabled are often pitied, therefore the choice of words.

Joyfulgirl said...

Like it is ok to laugh at you and treat you as an object; I don't think it's funny; I don't think it makes it any less insulting if he thought it was funny or if he was supposedly making fun of himself. It makes me really angry just thinking about it.

Shan said...

My initial response is his remark was meant to be "ha ha! that's one in the eye for disphobic people - you show the bastards!"

But I also like what Di Di said.

I think his intention was good but his delivery sort of fell down.

Samantha said...

I agree with Elasti-girl that it would be exhausting to always believe that people are thinking about us negatively and acting positively seems a good move, kind of a "glass half full" kind of attitude. I also agree with anonymous, (the sixth entry) that it doesn't seem to be ill intentioned, just a poor choice of words.

Heather said...

Kristine put it into perspective for me. He clearly didn't INTEND to be an ass...but he was.

Disphobic...I've never heard that before. Great word. Does it have any other meanings I should know about before I use it?


Kristine said...

The more I study social injustice, the more I believe that offensiveness is measured by impact, not intent.

I disagree with the line of thought that it's less tiring to assume positive intent, and shrug it off. This puts the burden on the offended, not the offender, to "fix" the situation and make everyone comfortable, even in the midst of their own discomfort. To me, it's exhausting to have that social responsibility, and deny my own authentic emotional response. My soul feels better when I honestly acknowledge the hurt feelings, however I choose to deal with them. It should be the offender's responsibility to learn from their misstep, so they don't continue hurting others in the future, and so both parties can better understand each other.

Hannah Ensor said...

"Now that just takes all the fun out of feeling sorry for you."

I see the 'funny' side he was trying to make. Kinda like 'You aren't really to be pitied are you. Darn.' - quite possibly a bit of British style humour that I've accidentally upset non-brits with before.

On the other hand, it unsettles me. Not the joke. But the fact that underneath the joke is true.

People do find it 'fun' or possibly 'affirming, enjoyable, positive, worthy' to feel pity for those 'less fortunate'. Psychologically makes you feel better to see others 'worse'. And I don't like that. I'm not a poor unfortunate. I'm an intelligent, active young woman who wheels.

So while I appreciate the joke attempt, I don't like being reminded of how I am seen by much of society.

Anonymous said...

Hmm this post has had me thinking too! I am British, so I get his sense of humour... I think he meant it in a way to say you are at this moment getting the better end of the deal, as in you travelling by the travelator not on it, looked more fun!! Does this mean when you get the raw end of the deal you should be pited, no! Does it mean he should have been pitied by being on the travelator and not in your shoes (or wheelchair!) - no!

I think he was trying to be friendly, trying to strike up a conversation (ok a short one, and maybe not too sweet!) and used a joketo break the ice and strike up a chat (ok so the joke didn't really work). Glad to see that on the whole you have enjoyed your time in the UK!