|(Image from Harvard Business Review - image has drawing of two people on the lower right and left of the image. From the person on the left is a speech bubble, from the person on the right is a huge speech bubble with teeth eating the other one.)|
I was surprised when the contestants were introduced. We're fans of the British game show "Pointless" and we watch an episode every morning while having breakfast. It's been on the air for a long time so there are lots of episodes to pick from. This time we were watching Celebrity Pointless and when the camera panned the four couples I saw immediately that one of them was a woman with a disability. She was a wheelchair user like me and she sat comfortably perched on her power chair.
She was with another woman, non-disabled, and over the course of the show, something kept happening that really bugged me. The standing woman put her hand on the back of the powerchair, which I saw as a real invasion of space. It ended up with the woman leaning hard on the back of the chair, yikes. I mentioned it to Joe and he had seen the same thing. We've been married and done all sorts of naughty things to each other but he doesn't touch the back of my chair without my permission and certainly never leans on it. Ever.
It ended up when they lost a round and were off the show I felt relieved because of the tension that I'd had building in my stomach watching this. I really, really didn't like it. Then I started thinking about how people watching knowing nothing about etiquette and wheelchairs might think that was appropriate behaviour. The woman, a disability reporter and advocate, didn't use the platform she was given to demonstrate, without lecturing how to be around someone in a chair.
I thought about it again.
Who the hell did I think I was? Why on earth did I place on her something that doesn't belong to her? I know nothing of their relationship. It's not her responsibility, as it's not mine, to be constantly teaching. She has the right to set boundaries for herself irrespective of what a fat guy in Canada thinks she should be doing.
Just another time that my opinion leaps ahead of my thoughtful consideration.
Very interesting, Dave.
I think it's important to remember someone didn't sign up to be a representative just by virtue of their existence. On the other hand, pushback and disapproval can be warranted when someone assigns themselves to speak on behalf of other people - the people-first vs identity-first comes to mind, as does when personal preference is turned into generic advice gets conflated in a "Crouch when you talk to a person using a wheelchair. I get a crane in my neck if I have to look up at you!" I don't like when people crouch at me, it frequently feels awkward and more intimate than the conversation often warrants.
But there's a difference between "recommending everyone crouches to all wheelchair users" and "being out in public with a person crouching before you, as you prefer".
Where that gets really interesting is when people talk about their own experiences in the second person - "When you hear you may never walk again, you just feel x, y, z" - which annoys me to no end because really, I didn't feel that and how dare you imply I did, assign me feelings/opinions, spread misinformation? But I also recognize that using a 'generic you' may be a valid way of coping with difficult experiences through allowing for some emotional distance. I don't think I use the 'generic you' frequently but I probably use it myself on occasion.
I hope you and Joe are staying warm in Canada!
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