Thursday, January 19, 2017

My Problem

I have a problem.

I think I've had it for quite a while, but I don't think I've really acknowledged it to myself or to anyone else until now. Let me give you a three examples and then I think you'll understand.

We are having a 'see you soon' gathering at my next team meeting for someone going on leave for a few months. I am in the liquor store picking up a couple bottles of wine, not to consume at work of course, but as gifts. I'm pushing myself carefully not wanting to knock over display towers. A passerby makes a comment about using benefit dollars to buy booze and about how he, as a taxpayer, resents my use of my money in that way. I spring to my own defence and say that I am fully employed and that I am, like him, a taxpayer.

Sitting in a food court holding the table for Joe. He eats much more slowly than I do so he gets his food first and then I get mine. I still finish first but there's not as much of a gap. Anyways, I'm waiting. Another anonymous comment comes my way about being fat and lazy and in a wheelchair, about how I let everyone serve me and the burden I've become. Apparently if I rise up and walk, I'll become thin, productive and those around me won't secretly wish I'm dead. I immediately make it clear that I push myself where ever I go and I participate actively in all my relationships.

It always surprises me when I'm out with Joe, Ruby and Sadie that sometimes people see only me and not me in relationship to the people I'm with. We were all, together, in a line up, getting tickets to a movie, and a comment is made about how sad it must be to be alone all the time. I rear up and say, quietly because I don't want the kids to be involved in another scene, that I'm not alone and that I'm with the people I'm with and, for God's sake, shut up.

You see the problem don't you?

In my mind I'm going after ableist and disphobic assumptions about people with disabilities. In my mind I'm educating people about who people with disabilities are and the lives we lead.

But that's not what I'm doing is it?

Every defence that I use, buys into their measuring stick about what it is to be a person of value.

I work. Okay, big whoop-de-do for me. My response says that I agree with how they determine who should spend what on what and that I have the right to spend my money the way I want because I earn it. Well, I don't agree. I don't think it's anyone's business to tell anyone else how they should spend the money they have no matter how it comes their way. So while challenging stereotype I'm reinforcing hierarchy.

I can physically push my chair. Okay, hold a parade in my honour. My response says that there are lazy people with disabilities but that I'm not one of them. I don't belong to THAT CLASS of disabled people. I am physically strong enough and have the dexterity to be able to push myself, at my weight, in my chair. Well, I don't think that 'lazy' is why people are in wheelchairs. I think that's a stupid notion and my response should tackle that, not reinforce it.

I am married and have relationships. Okay, ain't I special? My response says that there's something about me that makes me able to have relationships and that by having relationships, I have more value. Well, shit on that. I know people with disabilities that for a variety of reasons are not in sexual relationships and have little in the way of social relationships. Leaving out a discussion of why that may be, the question is, does that make them less worthy of respect? No. It doesn't.

I don't know why I want the respect of people who are ignorant or mean towards me. I don't know why I feel a need to protect myself by saying 'I'm not one of those kind of disabled people, you know the kind that don't deserve respect and welcome.' My inner disphobic self maybe peeks out at moments like that.

But, and this is not a defence, I don't know how to respond any other way. I don't want a discussion with someone who said something with the purpose of hurting and degrading me. But I also don't want to justify, in my response, their measure of value and of worth and of humanity.

I have a problem.


Frank_V said...

We need to put jerks back in their place. Always. Why? We are part of a team, together we stand, divided we fall. The trick is, defending ourselves as a group, without stooping to other people's value systems. Once I've figured that out, I'll get back to you.

Unknown said...

My understanding is that a stereotype occurs when a person assumes other information about a situation based on piece of evidence in the situation.(A person in a WC must be on public benefits.) And that stereotypes are broken down when the person has enough experiences of data that do not support the stereotype. (Your explanation of what it true about YOU.) Since humans tend to reject evidence that does not fit the stereotype UNTIL they have repeated experiences of facts that contradict the stereotype, I think that your explanations are good ones.
Change is a growing food from seed....preparing the soil is the first maybe these interactions are your way of preparing the soil..starting to break up hard packed earth so that it can make way for new growth.
And you are only human, it's unfair to expect yourself to be a wise and patient teacher every time, or to have the perfect reply that can change a person's mind in one interaction.
Very often you do have interactions when you see the start of change in someone's heart and I'd say you are doing an excellent job of education/advocacy.....

Anonymous said...

The problem, as you point out, is that in these passing encounters it's hard to challenge underlying assumptions--those take some unpacking, and that takes time and interaction. It's easier to address their surface comment, and often it's not just easier, but all that's possible.

Right now the only thing I can think of is to add a phrase. "I have a job and pay taxes, but why is that your measure of a person's worth?" "I'm married and have friends, but why is that your measure of a person's worth?" "I can move my own chair, but why is that your measure of a person's worth?"

There's no guarantee that it will do anything, and I'm sure some people will double down because of it. But I am guessing that while you're not looking for respect in the moment from these people, you want fewer people to be disrespectful. And maybe that's why you do it. To be your own advocate, and to educate--even if that only is a momentary exchange.

Maybe one of these people will actually think more deeply about their assumptions and bigotry. Maybe a passerby will hear it and think about it. Or maybe you just said your piece. There's probably no way to know, but the hope for growth is there.

ABEhrhardt said...

You have to put yourself into a potentially uncomfortable interaction with a jerk - on the off chance that the jerk might be human and learn from the unexpected response.

It's like saying, "If you were me, or I was your son or brother or father, would you say the same judgmental thing?" and watching to see if they got it.

Not good odds, but the alternative is saying nothing, and not having any effect.

Changing any expectation drives a little wedge into a mind, if it can be done at all.

Vicki in St. Marys said...

We all have the problem, not just you. We judge people on some kind of ridiculous scale where we get marks for how beautiful, how well-off, how fit and how successful we are. Society talks of how everyone is valuable and deserves respect, but we really only have to open our eyes to see how this is not true.
You aren't precious because you are loved by your family, or have a wonderful job, or because your arms are strong, or because you are educating hundreds of people everyday through your work and your blog. (and you are; I am a better person because of you)
You are precious because you are a divine creation. You don't have to be a single other thing to be treasured.

Unknown said...

When my daughter was in kindergarten, her class had a presentation day. Each child would use a microphone to read a book to the gathering of parents and family. I was a class volunteer during a practice session and my daughter was having a hard time holding and using the microphone. A little boy in her class sneered "Oh she'll never learn how." The teacher and I were both taken aback. But I kept helping my daughter practice and the teacher took the boy aside and spoke to him.

I knew the boy's mother because she also volunteered sometimes. She came up to me later, very embarrassed, apologizing for her son's behavior. I told her we were fine, my daughter had really paid him no mind and was excited about the upcoming day. And I said, I knew he must only have been repeating what had been said to him at some point. Not meaning the mom, she was was very sweet. Well, she started to cry and told me I was right. I don't know any more of their story.

Your post reminded me of the incident. I don't know if this will be helpful, but you seem to be brainstorming for new ideas, so here goes. Don't listen to their words, listen to what they are saying. Pause, breathe, don't let the immediate response come out.

To the person in the liquor store, gently, "Actually, you have misread the situation. But you must be stressed out today, to try to pick on a stranger. Do you need help? I work for a social services agency, maybe I could point you in the right direction."

To the person in the food court, gently, "It is scary to wonder if you actually deserve love and respect in the world. My friends and my family are an amazing validation of that to me. And I want to tell you, you are deserving of love and respect no matter what. You don't have to try and pick on someone weaker than you to prove that."

To the person at the movie, gently, "I'm told you only look under the bed if you've hidden there yourself. You don't need to worry about me, I'm not alone. Are you OK though?"

I can't say that I've ever actually managed anything so calm in the face of comments like you've mentioned. But maybe someday. Cheers & God Bless

Emily and Laura said...

Personally, I'm in favor of a polite Miss Manners type of response: "Thank you for your input," and then move along. They don't need a reply to an insulting comment based on stereotyped assumptions, not to mention they're being ridiculously intrusive in your personal life. Why care what they think? You're not going to change their mind in one or two sentences, and there's no point in responding to rudeness, tempting as it is to respond with more rudeness.

Of course, I'm usually more tempted to respond with things like, "What? Do I have a big 'I'm unemployed' sign on my head?" Or, "Who are all these people I'm with? Chopped liver?" Which, actually, is probably just as valid as anything else you might say. As long as you're not cursing, a good huffy reaction is probably your best defense!

GirlWithTheCane said...

Thank you for this's very thought-provoking.

Does anything more need to be said to these people than something like, "You're being rude. I'm trying to do my shopping/enjoy time with my family/eat lunch with my husband. Please leave me alone"?

People *do* need to be called out for bullying behaviour...but you shouldn't have to justify being a part of society in your call-out, or be cornered into a response that reinforces a hierarchy, like you said. It should (it seems to me) just reinforce that it's inappropriate to treat *any* person that way.

Anonymous said...

Emily and Laura, I went to Miss Manners as well, but I tend to default straight to "I BEG your pardon?" or (depending on how good your sarcasm voice is) "How KIND of you to take an interest."

Captain Awkward is a proponent of "Wow." And then let it be awkward. Painfully, painfully awkward, unless or until they apologise or go away.

I get the desire to educate people like that, but the first thing they need to be educated in is that they cannot just go around behaving disrespectfully to people they see as somehow lesser. Once they get that through their heads, they can pick the rest of it up on their own, but it's pretty much impossible to teach someone who sees you as their inferior.

Those of use who are currently able-bodied or have invisible disabilities need to take that part on.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this post. It made me think really hard about what type of answers we give to questions asked or comments thrown at us. Are we defending ourselves or denying the accusations made but a part of us is accepting that it exists within us but we are not the ones, if it makes sense.Sorry english is not my first language.