Friday, January 25, 2008

Condemning the Attitude, Not the Person

Someone whose opinion I value very highly, wrote me about the blog I linked to on Monday. She said:
Hinsburger is very eloquent, even poetic, but quite wrong. Let him worry more about people who refuse to fund schools or give help for mothers who have disabled children, or fund a charity clinic, not those who show empathy or a willingness to help. The fact of the matter is that some people are indeed disabled to the point where they need help. Are they lesser people? No, of course not, all of us are disabled in one way or another, but some of us are seriously disabled, either by disease, intellectual incapability, physical birth defects, mental disease, old age, extreme youth, a childhood messed up by uncaring or too caring parent, or a disabling accident. If it were not for people that cared, even though they show it in inappropriate ways, NOTHING WOULD EVER BE DONE TO HELP THEM.”

I would like to reply to this, as a further clarification. It may soften a bit the attitude, but the basic message is the same.

I would point out that he said nothing to her, and that I am assuming that he is not making up about the tone. He was not advocating answering the lady back. A friend of mine who is blind, Ricki, and others I know, occasionally encounter a certain tone that is very condescending and depersonalizing. I almost never answer these people back, as I recognize them for what they are: people with a feeling that they are greatly superior. They would not even hear me if I said something, so I let it go. I would agree with you (the only point he made that is doubtful) that unless the tone was extreme, I would not say "hateful". (But they are YES prejudiced, demeaning, and contributing to the dehumanization of those with intellectual disabilities.)
When others are condescending or very condoning I will often tell them as nicely as I can the behavior I expect:
"You want to know her name? You can ask her yourself."
You say "the matter is that some people are indeed disabled to the point where they need help." Of course. But there are ways of offering help that are not obnoxious: "Do you need any help?", "Can I help you with anything?" in a normal tone. My friend B, who is blind, has become very frustrated with "helpful" adults. People tell her that she does not "want" things that she does, insist on hauling her half by force to places she could get to by herself, which make B. feel that they are using her to make themselves feel good), etc.

You are right of course that it is much better than people not helping, and therefore one must be very careful what they say and to whom. For example, that is why I am not fighting Ricki's school about the 2 hours of treatments she should be getting a week, which they claim they have no appropriate therapist for. Who knows WHERE that money goes. But since they are so good about everything else, I decided to be grateful for what we have.
However, his audience is probably at least a third people with disabilities (physical), and his point to them not to disdain the retarded is good.
And if you would read his back logs, you would see that in his work he comes across a lot of people with intellectual disabilities who have yes been consistently depersonalized by staff (another third of his audience). This depersonalization, this not letting the retarded chose ANYTHING for themselves, is a direct contributing factor to the susceptibility of the retarded to sexual assault, and other types of being taken advantage of. The cultural allowance of treating the retarded like little children, is felt keenly by high-functioning adults who find it almost impossible (especially in non-American countries) to get a job.
I would add that I think we have to be careful not to hate those who demean others due to their improper use of speech (those who are trying to be helpful; I am not talking here about those who are purposefully hateful.) People like this need to be educated when feasible, but mostly pitied.
I remember one lady who unwittingly said something extremely insulting to me, who breezed on, not even realizing that she had stuck BOTH of her feet in her mouth. At first I was very insulted and hurt. Today I pity her as I recognize her as a person who is so unsure of herself internally, that she constantly is angry at everyone and everything. (I pray that I never be guilty of the same.) I pity her as she has virtually almost no friends, her bitter tongue having "won" her isolation.
This point- the one that we have to condemn the attitude, and not the person, is perhaps the thing missing in Dave Hingsburger's post.
Thanks for giving me your opinion. It made me think this over again very carefully

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