Sunday, June 03, 2012

That's Dirt, Not Dandruff

I went to see the French movie Intouchables yesterday and was wildly excited about seeing it. I'd heard good things about the film and knew of it's success in Europe. I also knew that it was based on a true story and that it had a lead character (if not actor) with a disability. Beyond that, I'd kept myself ignorant about the film. I wanted to go in without expectations or knowledge about what I was going to see. I'm the guy who only reads the first couple of lines on the back of a book - I like being surprised.

I'm sure that everyone who went to the film knew that it was a film, at least marginally, about disability. That much you can't miss. So I motored into the theatre and was backing into the disabled space when I saw that the woman directly behind that space had her sneakers up on the bar behind the space. I figured, naturally, that she'd put her feet down as I approached. She didn't. Her feet were only inches above my head. I felt really, really uncomfortable.

She didn't.

I checked and saw that the disabled seating on the other side of the theatre was free. I pulled out of the space, stopped to look back at her, saw her watching me drive away, her feet firmly in place. I wheeled over, which meant going to the front of the theatre rolling across under the screen and then coming back up the aisle and turning around and getting into the new space. All with her eyes on me.

My heart was beating quickly in my chest. I wanted a confrontation and yet I didn't want a confrontation. When Joe came in with the pop, I told him what happened. He advised me to take a breath and calm down. I did as he asked. Throughout the film people laughed, and laughed and laughed at various scenes in the movie. The movie was entertaining, on many levels, but challenging on few.

We left the theatre and I struggled to answer two questions:

1) Why didn't I ask her to put her feet down?

I felt belittled and devalued by her, without question. Having dirty sneakers right above my head made me feel beneath her consideration as a person deserving of respect and dignity. Even with the energy that anger gave me, I didn't have enough ... what? Fury, well, no, I had enough of that. Hope, maybe that was it, I didn't have any hope that a woman in her fifties could be educated. If I had to ask her to put her feet down, the ones just above my head, then it was pointless. Who doesn't know that? She and her husband seemed perfectly fine with the soles of her feet dirtying my soul. I had a weariness that I'm noticing more and more these days. A 'I just don't want to' feeling that creeps into dealing with creeps. So, I took my hopelessness and moved over to another seat.

2) What bothered me so much about what happened?

I think that I was bothered by the dismissal of any possible value I may have as a fellow human being. It was like I was below her notice, below her need to consider, below her feet ... that's it, like I was simply the dirt beneath her feet. It's such a common experience as a person with a disability. To be below notice ... in a line up when the clerk ignores me to take the order from the person behind ... in a restaurant when the waiter asks Joe what I'll have ... in meetings where there is never a place to sit - without bother. Only this time it was just so much clearer. I don't want special treatment or special consideration, I just want to be treated with consideration. But to be considered, I have to exist as a person, as a human being, as a fellow citizen.

Do any of the rest of you, fellow disabled folk, or parents, spouses and families of disabled folk, activists with and without disabilities ... do any of you ever feel like just giving up? Giving in to silence and accepting less than the best? Because sometimes, dear readers, I do.


Louise said...

Oh yes. There is something deeply depressing and exhausting about have to ask apparently ordinary people if they could behave like human beings. I'm also sometimes stunned into silence by impotent fury that 'this can't be happening, surely?'.

And I understand why you didn't say anything. If the conversation had proved to be confrontational you certainly don't want to sit through a movie with someone who's angry directly behind you.

Martijn said...

You're not the only one Dave. There are times at which I just don't feel like asking the gazillionth oblivious person to move their cart a bit cause it's blocking the isle. I'll just take a detour through the next isle.
Not every occasion is worth spending time and energy on, sometimes I'm tired of confronting people.
You're just human Dave, dn't worry :).

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm...I think I still would have asked her to put her feet down. Nicely. "Would you mind putting your feet down off the safety rails? They are rather close to my head and are making me feel uncomfortable." If she says no you could say further, "I appreciate it may be comfortable for you, but you have many choices of places to be comfortable - I have few. You consideration is appreciated." If still no, "Since you refuse to remove your feet from the safety rails, which are not foot rests, I will have to ask the management to assist you. Perhaps they can find you another seat which would be appropriate for you." And do it!!

You are NOT dirt beneath her feet - or anyone else's. You paid for your ticket and have just as much right there as her. And since your seating is "special" - even more so.

People seem to only think they are doing something wrong if they are caught.

You often don't get because you don't ask. Is is worth getting mad about? If you didn't care enough to say something - then perhaps you shouldn't have got mad. The choice was yours.

You never know - she may have complied. People cannot read minds nor interpret looks. Nor would she know the reason why you moved. You may think she did - but personally I find most folks a little shy on the ESP department.

Mary said...

To say something to someone is to open the door to the possibility of a confrontation. Confrontations are exhausting and embarrassing and can spoil the whole mood what's supposed to be a nice outing.

I'd say it's about a 70-30 split whether people, when challenged, say "oh sorry, didn't realise," and rectify whatever it is - or get shirty about it.

So unless you're prepared to spend the energy required to deal with someone who is behaving like a twit it can be better, on an individual level, to take a different course.

What might help is to regard the (moving away to another seat or other concession you make) as a positive way of tackling the situation in itself? Instead of glowering at the rude person thinking "you're making me do this," own the decision as "I have decided of my own free will to (change seats) as the most constructive way of dealing with this situation. I could have argued and called management and quoted equality legislation and suchlike, but she's not worth it."

To refuse to use the emotional energy on the challenge - but then to use that much emotional energy and more simmering about it - is counter-productive. If you know you're going to simmer and feel bad anyway, you might as well take the chance on the argument.

In an ideal world you wouldn't have to do either, because people would be automatically polite, but we must deal with the world as it is, rather than the world as we would wish it to be.

So speaks the theoretical brain from the safe space of my desk at home.

My emotional brain, on the other hand, has spent more time than I'd care to admit to in the outside world silently fuming because I feel angry about having been placed in a situation where I must make a decision due to someone else's lack of basic manners.

There's also - I wonder if you get this? - the feeling that if you say something, the people around you might resent you "turning our nice evening out into an equality battleground".

pat said...

To Anon above .. I find it a little disturbing when I read a post like this, to read comments that "should" a person. Dave expresses some pain here, pain that I understand as an activist, and to get lectured about what he should have done, or how you in your anonymity, would have handled it so much better. There needs to be an agreement, amongst us in the disabled community, that it's OK to be out about the exhaustion and the depression that comes from the constancy of the battle. I for one understand entirely what he's saying here. I get really tired. Really tired.

Dave, you fight more often and with more courage than most people I know. Don't hold yourself to an impossible standard. When you have the energy, fight. When you don't, don't. Most of us, though clearly not all, just appreciate that you do what you do as often as you do it. Take a rest. Everyone gets holidays, you should too.

John R. said...

I get tired. I lose hope. I become a total misanthropic and cynical jerk. Then, usually something will bring me out of that...a lecture (maybe one of yours), a song, a scene I observe, watching my 2 and a half year old daughter dance, whatever.....then, it is back off to the races to essentially continue my mission of helping people with the concept you discuss here; consideration.

It all boils down to that. Whether it is the staff members I am teaching, people I support, or my family members and my daughter, I do my best to help them all to "consider" others. I am NOT looking for them to adore, serve or even interact with other people necessarily, I just want us all as humans to consider each other where we are, and how we are, and who we are.....I am tired today.

Frankly, this post probably was discouraging for me but after responding with comment, I have a bit more energy to consider.

Dave, you are entitled to not fight every moment. However, knowing you a bit, I would imagine that doesn't last too long. If it does, there are many people who want you and need your wisdom, wit and ultimate voice. If you know that, maybe you can rest, catch another movie, and be renewed.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

Oh yeah! As a Mom of a child with a disability I noticed that I had times where I just couldn't advocate anymore - a kind of burn out - a kind of need to just quietly regroup. Then after a while I would be able to be back at it again. I have noticed the same pattern in other parents of kids with disabilities - times when we are passionately and strongly advocating and times when we just need a break from the constant head butting.

That woman was incredibly rude and not worth the dirt beneath your feet Dave.


Anonymous said...

Most recently when I am trying to advocate for service users to get what they need I feel as if I am shouting against the wind. Those with the "purse strings" don't listen and don't seem to care either. It is so easy to be tired and wonder if it is easier just to stop fighting but I guess that is just what the "age of austerity" leads to isnt it.

Anonymous said...

I've found that whenever I start giving up, when I start shrugging my shoulders at crap, usually whoever's with me (I have some great friends and a very outspoken mother) is more than willing to speak up or at least encourage me to continue. In the past few weeks I've been actively denied jobs solely because of my disability, I've had neighbors scream and threaten me because my disability doesn't fit what they imagine, I've had to call the cops who couldn't legally do anything. And I have an anxiety disorder that makes confronting people extremely difficult.

But I try to remember of the people who have all my same issues and less time and more pain. At the moment, I have the time and ability to speak up and all of this crap that us disabled folk go through shouldn't keep happening.

But at the same time, I just allowed maintenance to park their big ass truck on my ramp (my only way out of the apartment) for an hour because I was too tired to say anything.

wheeliecrone said...

Yes. Yes, indeed. There are times when I simply know in my soul that there is no point saying anything. And you were probably right to stay silent. The woman sitting behind you was probably too pig-ignorant to understand how inappropriate her behaviour was. She probably would have made a scene and nothing would have been accomplished, except to embarrass you further.
Dave, her behaviour does not reflect your worth. Her behaviour reflects her worth.

Utter Randomness said...

I can definitely sympathize with just taking the easier path, rather than the path where you have to argue with someone who might be (and probably is) going to fight you on it, even if it's just because they're embarrassed not to have noticed or whatever. And I can agree that it's exhausting to have to ask people for common courtesy. When did it become appropriate to put your feet up at the movie theatre anyways?

CapriUni said...

First, to answer your question: Yes. Sometimes I do get too tired and discouraged to speak up and confront. I (like all other humans I know) have limited reserves of energy, and, like money, I have to budget it well, and choose where I want to spend it. And there are times when the ignoramuses of this world are just too expensive (not valuable, mind, but expensive).

Second, this post is all the sadder to me when side-by-side with "Finish Line." And I wonder how I'd feel if I'd read the pieces in reverse order.

You see, what bothers me most about my own feelings is not that I'm sometimes too tired to fight, but that, while reading "Finish Line," I found myself holding back from celebrating the win of that moment, because I was imagining all the times and places where disrespect, condescension, and belittlement still happen.

I don't like to acknowledge that I've become so calloused by life.

Anonymous said...

Is one form of activism better, superior, more courageous, more correct, more valuable than another?
Should we aim always to confront, challenge,
Being me in a world that often doesn’t have much space for (aspects) of me is... well it just is.
Just being me out there in the world is activism and work enough. Sometimes I challenge and speak out, and sometimes I just notice and keep my peace. I think both are fine for me. And, for what it’s worth, for you too if it feels ok for you. And if it doesn’t feel ok, I sort of wonder, why not? i think there’s something I don’t get here.

Lene said...

Sometimes I choose my battles. I can't fight every moment of every day, I simply don't have the energy. So sometimes, I ask myself if a particular situation is worth my energy or if it is needed elsewhere. And then I shrug, leave people to their ignorance and move on. It becomes my choice to shrug it off, deem it unworthy of my time and energy - choosing to instead spend them on the people I care for - and in so doing, rob the ignorant of their power to hurt me.

Kristin said...

Dave, I don't even know what to say. I am so damned sorry you had this happen after the wonderful experience in the post right before this.

Princeton Posse said...

There seems to be so much anger in the world today. when I was growing up, there was a book "I'm OK, you're OK". Now it seems it's more like "I'm OK, Fuck you!".