You know how awful it is when someone looks at you and then makes an assumption based on stereotype? Annoying, right? Outright outrageous, right? Anyone with a disability, with a difference, will know what I'm talking about here.
You know what's EVEN WORSE THAN THAT!?!?!?!?!?!?
When you are the one making the assumption, and you know that you know better so you have no excuse.
I was riding on WheelTrans to work, very early in the morning. When I'm picked up and it's still 6 o'something in the morning, I'm usually the first on the bus. Not yesterday. I was pickup number four and three other people were already on board. To my right was a young woman, very attractive, dressed like the fashionable student that she was, who was dropped off at a downtown University. To my left and ahead of me was a very elderly man strapped into his seat with his walker strapped down up at the front. To my right and behind me was an elderly woman, strapped into her seat with her cane resting on her lap.
We all rode in silence.
At that time in the morning no one is particularly chatty.
I did speak to the older man, though, as the window above him was open about an inch and cold air poured into the van and streamed over me. I was getting colder and colder and colder. The older guy didn't seem to be awake and I really didn't want to bother him but when my left ear was so cold Joe's tongue would stick to it I spoke up. He woke but didn't comprehend what I'd asked. The driver spoke up and said that we'd be stopping soon and he'd get the window closed for me.
Then we pulled up to an industrial plaza kind of place, I've been to many of these kinds of places all over the city, they seem to be popular for housing day programmes of one sort or another. When the bus stopped I looked to see what the place was called. I do this for two reasons. One, this is a great way to get to know the length and breadth of services in the city. Two, sometimes their names are so bad as to be funny. I couldn't see the name of the place anywhere.
The fellow got up, with great difficulty, and began towards the door of the bus. The woman behind also got up, under her own steam, and slipped by me and I watched them both exit the bus and go to the door. I SAW her take a key out of her purse and unlatch the door. They entered, him taking some time to step up the small step to enter the building.
As the driver was shutting the window I asked him what place this was. He told me that the couple runs a very successful business out of this building and that he drops them off quite regularly and always early in the morning. "They work long hours," he told me. I was gobsmacked. I had absolutely assumed that they were being dropped off at some kind of day services for seniors. Absolutely sure. That's ABSOLUTELY SURE.
And I was wrong.
I made the same kind of assumption about them that others make about me.
I KNOW BETTER.
A lot better.
I shook myself alert, reminded myself to be careful in categorising people.
You know what's even worse?
I'm really exposing myself here.
I felt that my assumption about them going to a senior centre for some cards and coffee lessened who they were. AS IF. AS IF. AS IF working in their own business made them somehow more, I don't know ... yes I do ... valuable.
What's wrong with me????
Every time I think I have the destination in sight, I discover that I'm still miles and miles and miles from having arrived.
Damn and Blast.
We've all done that and it's brave of you to publicly admit it!!
Ah Dave - you may not be at your destination yet (who is??) but you are certainly a lot closer than 99% of the population. Journeying mercies!
Thank you for being so honest and making yourself vulnerable by doing so. It is the only way to help the rest of us look at ourselves and our attitudes honestly.
Yesterday I watched a slightly younger version of "you" on the DVD, "Who Do We Serve," (I think I got the title right) about supporting people with sexually offending behaviour. Again, my skills were firmed up, and I sat in amongst a large and strong team who discussed, were re-aligned, and refocused. I thought of how you give each day on this blog, and how much you have given to the sector of Developmental Services. What a legacy you continue to build.
For anyone interested the DVD I mentioned is available at:
We are immersed in these kind of attitudes and assumptions all day every day - our culture is full of them. It is only to be expected that we take them in. Here is the part that is important - you know it when you see it and you do something about it - in yourself, in others. You do not passively accept these prejudices as just the way things are. You hold yourself accountable. Perhaps reading this will help us to hold ourselves accountable.
You cannot expect to be immersed in water all day every day and not get wet!!!
Colleen makes a vital point -- we're all immersed in the 'water' of stereotyping assumptions, and it's not drying up.
TV and movie characters are often created by a kind of short-hand that reinforces these assumptions. Want to show that the character is quirky? Have him or her wear their hair uncommonly long or short, give them an odd addiction (say, a pipe in a cigarette-smoking office, or bending paperclips into origami). Want to show that a character is heroic? Give her or him a limp, a walker, crutches.
This cultural-and-media habit of stereotyping has reached the place where even when the writer wants to show that the character is 'as ordinary as you or me' (that's, unfortunately, a direct quote), the presence of a hearing aid or a wheelchair is seen as giving the character either heroic properties or the obligation to receive excessive sympathy.
By your work, you help us build some immunity to all this. But even vaccines don't work 100%. I'm so glad to see you blogging about this. And so pleased to see how quickly you notice, on the rare occasions when you fall into this trap. Maybe I can learn to recognize it more quickly when I do it, too.
It sucks to be human, doesn't it? At least you have the courage to look at your mistakes. It's when we don't even realize we're making mistakes and we carry on in complete ignorance that makes me nervous.
Willingness to explore and challenge our own assumptions is the key... not the fact that you made an assumption but that you were willing to break it down and learn. I learn from you too!
I love your honesty and the words you choose to share it with all of us out here. We are none of us perfect, but we are all of us learning, still.
Thank you for the lesson.
Congratulations, buddy, you're a human being. You make mistakes. You make assumptions. You're just like the rest of us.
Once upon a time a very wise friend of mine pointed out that, to some degree, we are all biased. From time to time, we all have bigoted thoughts or make giant assumptions. Various experiences in our lives, as we live them, can color our beliefs and expectations, even if we think we "know better."
What's important, she said, is not *that* we have the thoughts themselves, but what we do when we have them. Do we open our yaps and say stupid things? Do we mentally kick ourselves and think, "What is wrong with you, you know better!"? Do we continue with our thought or do we think through why we had the thought and try to change things so we don't have them again?
You'll do something like this again. And again. And each time you'll think it through and realize where you went wrong. And each time you learn a little more about yourself.
It's all part of being human.
OMG, you're human!
Ah yes...the sudden realization that we are immune from doing things we find so annoying in others. I hate that when that happens! No matter how far we've come in our own journey we do still run up against those rough patches in ourselves now and then. I hear you that you know better. But if that's the critria...knowing better and still making the error in thinking...you are in very crowded company!
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