A personal reflection on pity for the anti-telethon day.


Here is a link to the home of the anti-telethon blogswarm today. And I’m late in posting. I’ll leave it up to the other posters to explain the assorted politics of telethon stuff. I do that some years. This year I am not up to the whole explanation in one night, and others are doubtless managing better. But I can discuss the toxic effects of pity.

I got an email recently from someone I haven’t heard from in years, and haven’t seen in over a decade. And talked to them on the phone. And I got all stressed out about it. Not because they pitied me. They showed no sign of doing so that I could detect. But because they potentially could end up doing so, and the potential was strong enough to freak me out in a way other things could not.

When I knew this person before, I experienced my life as a living hell. I mean, few teenagers don’t, regardless of circumstances, but my circumstances weren’t great at the time either. I’ve experienced my life since then as one of growing up, on somewhat of a rockier road than many, and less rocky than some. And I have experienced the changes that have taken place in that time as mostly positive. I have gotten out of situations that would be considered hellish by even adult definitions of the term uncluttered by teenage angst. I am now happy (which I could never have said before the past few years), doing a lot of things I want to do, and using my abilities as well as I can for a whole wide variety of things I care deeply about. I know a lot of non-disabled people who cannot say the same.

But I am well aware of a superficial and ableist take on my life that is very different. In that take on my life, I had made my way into the classification of a gifted child, and experienced a mysterious and horrible regression at a certain age (which everyone then rushed to find scapegoats for). I gradually lost (or in some cases lost merely the appearance of) certain specific motor, comprehension, and speech functions, and for awhile also looked like I was going crazy (which was my own fairly complex response to the chaos that seemed to be going on at the time). And now I use crutches or a wheelchair to get around most places, a keyboard to talk with, staff to help me with daily living stuff (which I was never good at to begin with but it doesn’t show as much in a child as when the child gets older and still hasn’t learned it), etc. I have a number of fairly complex health problems. I don’t get out much. Have experienced a continuing drop in tested IQ. Etc.

These changes have just happened, most of them gradually, over time. By this point very little about them alarms me, or I would spend all my time being alarmed, which would not be all that useful. I have a life and I live that life in the body I’ve got with the mind I’ve got, and I spend more energy than most non-disabled people I know on trying to do so as efficiently and practically as I can.

But how to convey that to someone for whom the change has not been gradually observable over time, and thus looks pretty drastic? How to make sure that pity is not the response I get? How to avoid the slap in the face of hearing the version of my life based more on imaginary stereotypes than anything real, put forth as reality? How to convey what the actual reality is? I don’t know. Fortunately it has not come up, the person in question has not responded in a way that would make it have to. But it was a real possibility, and a possibility that I feared. Pity is seen as the default response to a situation like mine. Many people don’t see that I have a life, and that this life is not divorced from my body, nor married to their preconceptions of what life in a body like mine must be like, but just going on like everyone else’s life in many ways, just a very different shape in some respects. I am glad the person who contacted me out of nowhere has not treated me like this, but it’s the fear of this reaction that has kept me out of contact with a lot of people from my childhood.

Dave Hingsburger talked about public displays of people for money making him (literally) puke. I am not likely to actually puke, but what nauseates me is the way people’s lives are written off after we cross some mysterious boundary line between “abled” and “disabled”. Mind you, I have been autistic since I was born (probably since beforehand), and a number of other things besides, but I was passed (I will not say “I passed”, that gives me too much agency and say in the matter) for awhile in certain ways and in certain contexts. When that became no longer possible for a number of reasons (again, some in me, some in my environment’s demands of me), I crossed some kind of line past which the response of most people is pity.

I have heard and read many accounts of Syd Barrett, the former member of Pink Floyd who is said to have brain damage from LSD (similar to a false rumor that was started about me at one point, so I won’t comment on the truth or falsity in his case, because I know that in my case substance abuse was a sign that I was in the middle of some kind of stress-based collapse, not a cause of the collapse, and I don’t want to speculate too far one way or the other about a stranger). Whatever the reason, he crossed some line into what they considered too much craziness and was kicked out of the band.

Everything I hear about him past that point is laced in pity. From what I heard he had a life from then on, but the people who were formerly in his life could barely stand to see him without breaking out in great gushes of pity. Some of them reportedly attempted to avoid him because they felt so sorry for him — that sounds like ‘pity’ was part of something closer to revulsion and hate. And from what I heard, he couldn’t stand the songs they were writing about him when he did finally meet him again. I am not inside his head, but perhaps he hated the pity that ran through them, the sense that who he was as a real person had ceased to exist, that they thought his life was already in a sense gone, that he was half-dead to them. That’s why I hate certain kinds of pity, at any rate. It’s a form of metaphorically killing the person I am now by claiming that the best of me is already gone. I identify a lot with what I’ve heard of him, not because of the larger-than-life mythology that’s cropped up around him, but because he had to navigate around that mythology, and the resultant pity and lurid fascination, for the rest of his life, more even than most disabled people do (because he was famous), while living what was probably to him a perfectly good life or at least a perfectly ordinary everyday one, that did not end the moment he left Pink Floyd.

I mean, think about it, if you were living what you thought was a very interesting life, would you really want this song written about you (lyrics here since there’s no captions)?

I’ve heard it said that he didn’t want to be reminded of what he lost, and I’ve very occasionally heard similar things said about me. I don’t know about him, he’s a total stranger to me. But personally, I am not bothered by the possibility of confronting what I have supposedly lost. My childhood, even, perhaps especially, at my so-called “highest functioning” (by someone else’s standards), was very unpleasant and it’s that unpleasantness that lingers in my memory as something I’d rather not experience again. I’ve gotten away from that, and I certainly don’t experience it as a tragic loss, but more of a pit I managed to climb out of. What bothers me is that some people see my childhood as the highlight of my life, because some of it in some circumstances was the time I most exceeded what was expected of me in a very superficial sense. It bothers me for what has been a difficult but rewarding life to be summed up as a tragedy, a life that ended halfway through. There’s little more eerie and dehumanizing as being treated as the walking dead, or being held up to a ghost that you were never going to be and found wanting, all for superficial reasons. And I’ve experienced it not only from people who knew me prior to whatever sociological shift I underwent, but also from professionals in general.

Jerry Lewis has said similar things about people who use wheelchairs, and has even said once we’re in a chair we’re only half of a person. At least he is blatant about his bigotry. But he obviously has never had to use one when he really needed one. I can remember how immobile I got before I finally decided once and for all to begin using a wheelchair part-time. And I remember the freedom and mobility it’s allowed for in my life. It does not diminish my life, it enhances it. But even close family members could not see that at first, because wheelchairs are so emblematic of a diminished and pitiful existence. (For an essay that changed my view of the things drastically, try I Want To Live, Give Me The Chair.)

So whether one acquires something, or something progresses, or circumstances change to make something stand out more, the reaction a lot of people have is the poisonous reaction of pity. Telethons only add to that. They say our lives are over, sometimes before they have even started. And we defy them by living our lives as the complex and growing people that we are, regardless of how various aspects of us are medicalized, and regardless of how those aspects of us appear or change over time. We are not the walking dead, we are not half-persons, we are quite alive, and the everydayness of our reality outshines all the tragic melodrama others want to drape over us, and the ‘normal’ ghosts they would compare us to. And people would notice that if they only they stopped looking at the glossy telethon versions of our lives.


About Mel Baggs

Hufflepuff. Came from the redwoods. Crochet or otherwise create constantly and compulsively. Write poetry and paint when I can. Developmentally disabled, physically and cognitively disabled. I'm not really part of any online faction or another, even ones that claim me as a member. The thing in the world most important to me is having love and compassion for other people, although I don't always measure up to my own standards there by a longshot. And individual specific actions and situations and contexts matter a lot more to me than broadly-spoken abstract words and ideas about a topic. My father died in 2014 and that has changed my life a lot in ways that are still evolving, but I wear a lot of his clothes and hats every day since he died and have shown no sign of stopping soon.

60 responses »

  1. I wonder if one way to define pity is that it’s empathy, but empathy all mixed up with guilt, and because of that guilt, disgust and dehumanizing rationalizations. For example, one way to rationalize feeling disgust is to tell yourself that you’re disgusted by the person’s condition, not the person. Thus the condition must be so bad that it obliterates the person, so there’s not really a person there for you to feel disgust towards.

  2. I read some of the blogswarm posts that went up yesterday, but I’m glad to read your own as well. I did my own contribution a little belatedly yesterday morning at http://reunifygally.wordpress.com/2007/09/03/why-deaf-people-should-boycott-jerrys-telethon/ after reading about it at Dave Hingsburger’s site. One of the things I include in my post is the story about how my doctor tried to convince me that I didn’t “need” crutches at a time when walking was such agonizing pain without them that I could barely face up to the idea of walking two blocks to and from the metro.

    (Side note: Asides from my telethon post, I have also been blogging a great deal about the ADA Restoration Act of 2007. I’d love to see more people blogging about that topic as well, because I think more people with disabilities *should* be up in arms over it.)

  3. When I had some hip surgery, I needed assistance to walk for about two months. At first it was much, much easier to use a wheelchair, but it was such a pain in the ass to navigate everyone’s reaction to the chair that I switched to crutches earlier than I might have.

  4. At its best pity is the leading definition dictionaries give to the word as a noun: sympathy or sorrow for a person’s suffering or distress. In that sense it has a certain nobility or grandeur.

    The British war poet, Wilfred Owen (1893-1918), wrote in a proposed book of his poetry:
    “My subject is War, and the pity of War.
    The Poetry is in the pity.”
    See http://illyria.com/poetry.html.

    But even in the devalued contemptuous, dehumanising sense of the word it may be at its least worst, a flawed and clumsy groping towards compassion and empathy. At least it’s better than callous indifference.

    For a person who has lost the use of their legs as a result of a car crash or war injury, for example, that loss is devastating and traumatic. They did not want it to happen. It is not something of no importance to them. They would find it hard to believe that their life has been enhanced by their injury and their needing to use a wheelchair. I hope I’m wrong in seeing a danger that disability activists would minimize that person’s experience.

  5. Oh, yes. Frankly disablist friend of mine once answered the questions of friends of hers about me.. Can’t work; can’t cope with stress, so forth. So, naturally, they pitied me. I was revolted, and said so in strong terms.

    But it’s better than contempt”, she earnestly said.

    well, in the first instance, there’s a third possibility, namely respect, which is vastly better than either. Whose right is it to suppose that my life, any life, is *just a wasteland?

    In the second, what is there to choose between them? The main difference is that one is left-handedly dangerous, and the other right-handedly dangerous. The left-handed version may look softer, but give me the fist I can see over the blade I can’t.

  6. I also had heard that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album was about Syd Barrett “going crazy.” But the lyrics of the following song, Brain Damage, don’t seem to me to reflect pity:

    The lunatic is on the grass.
    The lunatic is on the grass.
    Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs.
    Got to keep the loonies on the path.

    The lunatic is in the hall.
    The lunatics are in my hall.
    The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
    And every day the paper boy brings more.

    And if the dam breaks open many years too soon
    And if there is no room upon the hill
    And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too
    I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.

    The lunatic is in my head.
    The lunatic is in my head
    You raise the blade, you make the change
    You re-arrange me ’til I’m sane.
    You lock the door
    And throw away the key
    There’s someone in my head but it’s not me.

    And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
    You shout and no one seems to hear.
    And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes
    I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.

    “I can’t think of anything to say except…
    I think it’s marvelous! HaHaHa!”

    Okay, now I’ve got to go listen to that album again…

    Thanks for the interesting post, Amanda!

  7. One thing that unnerved me about that song “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”, was it sounded like a memorial song, not a song for someone who was still alive. But he was still alive back then, and lived a couple decades more even.

  8. bullet: Thanks for the comment you left at my telethon post — you might have seen that someone replied to you there.

    Evonne: whenever your words return to you, I’ll look forward to your reactions!

  9. It seems to me that the song is not a memorial to the actual person, but to their friendship and collaboration. And maybe not so much a memorial as a bon-voyage for the next phase of his life. The song always struck me as positive, though bittersweet.

  10. Philip: (Sorry, my spam filters tried to mark your comment as spam for some reason, so it took searching through my spamtrap to get it out of there and posted.)

    Very few people who go through that experience retain a horror of wheelchairs for more than a short period of time (a couple years maximum, is what I’ve heard), if they experience one at all. Their attitude towards using a wheelchair varies based on personality factors and often on how much prejudice and pity they felt for chair users before that time. But it almost always rather rapidly attains the status of possible inconvenience at worst, rather than tragic circumstance, and if they view anything as traumatic in the end it is not likely to be about the way their body works.

    However, they are incredibly likely to lose many of their friends (who are too overcome by pity and confusion to feel they can understand them anymore, and thus avoid them, since pity inevitably puts someone on a higher level than another, and it’s hard to have friendships in such unequal situations), to experience other people’s pity as one of the main inconveniences of being disabled, etc.

    Because they’ll realize eventually, other people’s pity won’t encourage friendship, it won’t encourage anyone to hire them, it won’t encourage in short any of the things that they might otherwise be able to do were it not for the fact that they are being pitied. And so they grow fairly rapidly to resent pity.

    The disability movement that spawned the no-pity idea has always had a hierarchy to it, whether spoken or unspoken. At the top are white men with spinal cord injuries and amputees, who otherwise look “normal”, and who are likely to have become disabled in a rapid and potentially traumatic way, such as war or a car accident. Surely since the very movement that spawned the dislike of pity towards disabled people is run by the sorts of people you’re describing, the aversion to pity is not ignoring their experiences, but rather catering to their experiences.

    Disabled women, disabled people of color, cognitively disabled people, disabled people who look “disfigured”, people who’ve been in the psych system, and people considered so severely disabled that they are often not thought of as “disabled” at all but rather “non-existent”, and people with things classified more as chronic illnesses than as traditional “disabilities”, and people with progressive conditions, are among the people occupying various (and complex, and shifting) positions lower in the hierarchy.

    And it is those people’s experiences that are more often ignored in the mainstream of the disability movement. Notably, very few people in these positions like pity either. But if anyone’s everyday lived experiences of disability are ignored, it’s surely not often the paras, quads, and amputees who make up the bulk of the top of the hierarchy. Because of this I don’t find the idea credible that pity would enhance any understanding of those experiences, in fact I suspect it would diminish it. And that goes for whether or not the person would choose to be disabled if given a choice, the dislike of pity has nothing to do with whether the person experiences their body’s functioning as pleasant or not.

    I can say also, as a person with multiple kinds of chronic pain, that chronic pain sucks, big time, almost by definition, but that pity is not a response I appreciate. In fact it’s a response that makes me really uncomfortable and confused, and I know a lot of people with chronic pain and other undeniably unpleasant physical conditions who feel the same way.

    When I find that my experiences are being ignored, including any suffering I might be experiencing, the response I want in order for people to better understand those experiences is not pity. Pity is a distancing emotion. It distances one person from the experience of another while providing the illusion of understanding. I have found that illusions of understanding tend to be far worse, have far more awful consequences overall, and are far harder to work around than callous indifference. But whatever pity does, it does not seem to further understanding, I liked a Hingsburger quote best (perhaps because it’s so pithy), “Pity is prejudice masked as sympathy.”

    At any rate, when I find my experience as an individual or as a member of a group is not understood, the last thing I want is to elicit pity, whether or not the experience I am talking about is a good one. Part of getting to understand another person’s experience is getting out of your own ego, and pity is all about ego.

    Consider also that it’s pity that often makes people want to kill us. True compassion does not tend to create murderous urges. (Warning: religious reference ahead.) Pity reminds me of the way Satan is said to present as an “angel of light,” deceiving people who believe that “light” automatically == “good”. Pity is similarly deceptive, it is in a way hatred that feels like love. Hatred because of what it does, love because of how it feels (and because of a common deceptive notion that hatred is always felt emotionally as rage and love is always felt emotionally as affection… which, like darkness being “evil” and light being “good”, is a dangerous way to evaluate the world on all sorts of levels).

  11. Evidently, autism ranks right at the bottom of the disability hierarchy, if it is not accompanied by any other condition. People make it into a game so that only the one who has suffered the absolute most are allowed to claim they have a disabling condition.

  12. The reference to the disability hierarchy was mainly because of the idea that the disability community (which uses this hierarchy) might somehow be ignoring the experiences of the people on top of that hierarchy, which I find really unlikely.

    I don’t think there’s an absolute category at the bottom of the hierarchy, though, I think there’s a lot of people scrabbling around on top of each other down at the bottom. Autistic people, people with intellectual disabilities, and people with psych labels are all somewhere down there though. Even further down are people in long-term comas, “vegetative” states, “minimally conscious” states, and “locked-in syndrome” (particularly those without voluntary eye movement in that last one), all of whom are often considered from the outside to be so severely disabled as to not even rate the category of “disabled” anymore but something different, so I’d say if there’s an absolute bottom to the hierarchy they’d be there, not autistic people (or not autistic people in all situations, as I said the hierarchy below the top is pretty shifting and changing).

    Being low on the disability hierarchy doesn’t mean being more deserving of being called disabled, and it doesn’t even mean being more “severely disabled” (after all, many quads are at the top of that hierarchy while people who merely look really strange and face discrimination purely on the basis of physical “disfigurement” tend to be lower down), it just means less chance you’re actually going to get listened to or see your views, interests, rights, or life properly represented or fleshed out.

  13. just to second kev (hi, k) on shannon. he’s done a lot of thinking and writing about this particular topic worth a read – browse around the unlinkable flash bits on his site.

  14. Amanda: I thought the delay in my previous comment being posted was because you were not at your computer.

    Pity is sometimes used as an acceptable alternative (to the pitying person) to condemnation. Such as religious fundamentalists pitying gay people with HIV/AIDS because they’re torn between their religious opposition to homosexuality and their belief that they should love the sinner.

    People with Alzheimer’s are also pitied and often elderly people, also poor people.

    Veterens disabled in a war generally as right (such as the Second World War) are at the top of the disability hierachy.

    But admiration – the seemingly opposite and positive alternative to pity – puts the admired person on a pedestal, and denies and ignores their full personality.

    I hope I never pity anybody. I would hate to be pitied and fear it. Until about three or four years ago I regarded pity as basically a good impulse, arising from love, which had the danger of being flawed by elements of contempt.

    Pity is incompatible with love; with respect and dignity for the other person. The alternative to pity is not indifference, but love, understanding, practical help, and solidarity.

    It’s true that pity is all about ego, particularly self-pity, which is so seductive.

    I don’t know if Frodo ever came to pity Smeagol-Gollum. It may be that pity was the closest to love he could feel for him. But if Frodo did pity Smeagol-Gollum that would have been a different emotion than any hatred he had for him. It may have been that Frodo felt a degree of sympathy for Smegol-Gollum as a fellow bearer of the One Ring, and knowing its ultimately almost irrestible corrupting evil (I’m thinking of Tom Bombadil as about the only person who could have resisted it). If Frodo had gone beyond pity to love and enabled the Smeagol side to triumph over the Gollum side; then the sequence of events which led to Gollum falling into the Crack of Doom, while dancing holding the Ring, would not have happened.

  15. “Pity is prejudice masked as sympathy.”

    Yeah. Definitely seen that. And for some people, it also seems to hide the desire to gawk at the freakshow and get some kind of weird voyeuristic pleasure out of it, and they don’t want their viewing interrupted by the freaks speaking up for themselves and saying “Actually, no, it’s not a horrible hellish experience that’s nothing but unending misery and pain.” (And therefore any freak who *does* dare to speak up like that can be written off as a faker and as someone just feigning the disability/difference/etc in question for “attention” or because it “makes them feel special,” because the Real Ones would agree that their life is horrible and allow outsiders to keep gawking, and appreciate the pity.)

    And– I’ve noticed, also, that it’s the pity-mongers who often get the most rabid about “fakers” and go on the longest tirades about how “fakers” are evil and horrible and etc because they steal the spotlight from the “real ones” who are so badly in need of and will benefit so much from everyone’s pity, somehow. To the point where people will get rabidly angry and turn on you if you don’t accept their pitying fake praise– either you’re the good childlike victim or you’re angry, belligerent, hostile, hateful towards the people who want to help you, etc. (And then, sometimes, go and try to smear your reputation and that of people like you because you’re OBVIOUSLY FAKING because you DON’T SUFFER ENOUGH, and how horrible it is of you to steal the attention from the ones who REALLY SUFFER, even if you never asked for attention above and beyond just having your voice included, etc etc etc.)

  16. Oh yes, going from the “sweet innocent Poor Thing” to the “bitter cripple” in the blink of an eye, all because one acts like a regular person. And then anything bad that happens to you is your own fault, because of your attitude and so forth.

    I’ll yet again quote from Carolyn Gage’s So You Know a Dyke with CFS:

    DON’T attribute your lack of sympathy to my attitude. This is a standard defense of bigots. Racists are always sure that there are right ways to be African American and wrong ways. Sexists believe that harassment and discrimination only happen to women with bad attitudes. Ableists are always convinced that there is something in the attitude or the behavior of the disabled person which is causing their own irritation or aversion towards us. Nothing unmasks your ableism more than this point of view toward me. I have to fight my way through a toxic, apathetic, and even sadistic world every day. I am assertive to militant about my needs, and I haven’t got the energy to coddle ableist people. You will not see me looking helpless, tearful, or pathetic. Someone suffering for a few weeks with a flu virus may be able to indulge or even luxuriate in their temporary helplessness, but those of us who are sentenced to chronic illness for the rest of our lives must make other adjustments – ones which should be valorized not excoriated. I need an ally, not a rescuer. If you can’t feel empathy for an embattled warrior, it’s your ableism and not my attitude. Period.

    (And note that’s someone who really really hates the condition she has, but still clearly doesn’t want anyone’s pity for it.)

  17. “I’m thinking of Tom Bombadil as about the only person who could have resisted it).”
    Also Bilbo Baggins. He was the only one who willingly gave up the ring (albeit with some difficulty) after having it for some time. He passed it on because he knew of the damage it was doing to him, making him “like butter that’s been stretched too thin” (think I’m paraphrasing there.)

  18. I wonder how much of the pity that people expressed is staged.

    It’s like when someone tells me that someone close to them has died. I know that I’m supposed to put on a saddish face and say “I’m sorry.” Actually, though, I’m not sorry at all. And I’m not callous to the situation either. It’s just that I believe in an afterlife, and I don’t see death as something bad. (At the same time, I love and value life).

    But I wonder if, when people are showing pity, they actually are feeling callous, but don’t want to show it.

    And sometimes, I suppose, it’s better to show pity when that’s what’s expected, such as in cases where someone is newly disabled, or when people are present who might judge you for not showing pity, and you don’t have the means to explain your position or educate them.

  19. I suspect that pity is a lot more than simply hatred or callousness in disguise. I also suspect (but am not at all sure) that it is a cultural construct that is a direct result of socialization. I think pity may be a result of a thought process that goes something like this: (1) Perceive something “different” about a person; (2) Feel shock/horror at the perceived difference; (3) Feel glad that you don’t have that difference; (4) Feel guilty that you feel glad; (5) Offer pity as a result of that guilt.

    If that is the way it goes, yeah, it is not particularly nice. On the other hand, it could be that the more “natural” (unsocialized or less socialized) reaction to steps one and two (recognizing difference, feeling shock) is to shun or even eliminate the “different” one, as some animals do…and as humans certainly have been known to do at times, as well.

  20. Is ‘compassionate conservatism’ the political expression of pity? I would have thought that conservatives/rightwingers are more likely to believe that pity is good than liberals/socialists/leftwingers.

    As far as I remember from reading about the programme in Nazi Germany of exterminating disabled people, I believe that pity was used as a justification by the Nazi government for that policy and in its propaganda: that the lives of the disabled people they murdered were not worth living, and that they were better off dead.

    Not that I’m equating conservatives/rightwingers today with the Nazis.

  21. I know how you feel. It is one of the things I find particularly annoying about Autism spectrum issues.

    I recently read a book by Tony Attwood, and several other Autism spectrum professionals called Asperger’s and Girls. Catherine Faherty wrote about a meeting she had with a group of girls who were on the spectrum. She said the topic that brought the strongest emotional response from the women in the group, was how they felt they were always being treated like children.

    Alot of people in society are in the belief that if someone is on the spectrum, they are at best at the age level of a teenager. So they will think talking down to them like they’re a kid is the best way to interact with them. This only causes problems, because usually the person they’re talking to is more of an adult than they are, given the amount of adversity than others.

    This is why I have trouble explaining to people when I go out that I have Asperger’s Syndrome, and have a sensory sensitivity to sudden loud noises. Usually this happens whenever I go to a resturant, and someone tries to seat me near a small child.

    I figure either I’ll get treated like I’m a pity case, or if I’m speaking to a parent of small children, will be told off. Assuming that I cannot know anything about children unless I’m a parent. You don’t need to be a parent to know that children will be loud in places they can’t run around, and that babies scream at a pitch that I imagine makes dogs ears feel like they’re exploding.

    I don’t understand how NTs manage to turn a simple request into a moral issue. “You don’t like chillllddddrreeeen? How can you not like chillllddrreeen? You’re mean!” I don’t have the time, nor the patience, to deal with adults who feel once they have a child, feel it’s perfectly acceptable for them to behave like a 10 year old child themselves.

    The pity issue just makes things more difficult, and at times rather rediculous. If I had a nickle for every time I caught a NT behaving in a way that they would stereotype, as how someone on the spectrum behaves… I mean, come on? I’m not the one going around baby talking to everyone, cause I have a baby and think it’s cuuuttee.

    I’m just a person, with a Autism Spectrum disorder who wants to eat out without having to cover her ears. I’m someone who doesn’t want to be told, “Oh so you would rather sit in the smoking section?” and then be met with the look of a deer caught in headlights, when I suggest that it’s societys way of saying “Either you luuuuuvvvv children, or you can go off and die.” I don’t see why I should be exposed to Cancer causing chemicals, just because I want peace.

    I think perhaps the real issue is that when we do get pity, we know it’s fake. We can tell that we’re getting pity, because NTs feel they’ll look bad if they aren’t sympathetic with someone disabled. Yet they won’t lift a finger for our rights. They won’t try to stop CAN and other groups like them. Most likely they’ll just go back to life without even giving it a second thought.

    I don’t think we’re the ones who deserve the pity, I think it’s those NTs who could care less who deserve the pity. They’re the ones who are missing out on a life with real intelligent thoughtful people, who might act a bit odd at times. I cannot imagine what it is like to be someone who is so self-involved, to reject someone for something as irrelevant as a little arm flapping now and then.

    I just wish people would see and understand those situations, like my continuing ranting on different Aspie/Autie sites about the noise sensory issue and resturants, that are really that difficult for us. Is it really worth not moving down a few tables, to save someone the misery of a meltdown or ear pain?

    Perhaps maybe they’d understand it, if I said it’s like taking away your cell phone for a week. Or saying you can’t go shopping. I don’t know, those issues seem rather shallow to me, but so very important to NTs. There needs to be a common understanding between us.

  22. Just one more thing, I noticed Amanda discussing wheelchairs. When I was a child they had a Disablity awareness exhibit. It was a kid’s museum, so it wasn’t like a formal exhibit.

    You could look through different glass lenses that were set so that people with about average vision, could see what the world looks like for people with sever near-sightedness or far-sightedness. They also had a wheelchair maze, and I thought it was kind of fun. I really never felt wheelchairs were that strange to me at all.

    Maybe if there were more children’s museums willing to create a exhibit like the one I described above, there would be more people who are less disturbed by the sight of someone in a wheelchair.

  23. It’s interesting what Philip said about admiration – is it better or worse than pity? I always feel uneasy when the parents of disabled children insist that their children are “angels” or somehow “sent from God” to them on purpose. Movies especially love to portray disabled people as gifted beings who exist to teach non-disabled people about life (not all movies about disabled people do this, but I can think of a couple off of the top of my head that do).

    I suppose it’s easier for parents and people in general to believe that disabled people, especially children, are special messengers with divine purpose. The truth – that there’s no special reason for disabled people to be here, or not any more than there is for anyone to be here – and that a disabled person is just a person with flaws and feelings, but with the added difficulty of disability – is harder to accept.

    But admiration really is just as dangerous as pity. Both dehumanize the subject of the emotion. One turns the disabled person into a god, the other, a monster. I don’t know which is worse.

  24. Ballastexistenz, have just discovered your blog -and others you link to. Fantastic to find such a vibrant online community.

    I’m going to work on a Camphill Community for adults, but have mixed feelings about this related to many of the points you raise in your own blog. Most of the adults in this community are impaired regarding communication (several can’t speak, but use Makaton). Am interested in issues around disability advocacy for individuals who literally can’t advocate for themselves in the manner you and fellow bloggers do. Hard to know how this could be achieved without patronising do-gooders?

    An example: a very pretty young girl I met with learning difficulties complained that her new glasses pinched and made her look ugly. Her carers agreed to get them fixed so they didn’t pinch, but her complaint about how she looked was ignored. Attitude seemed to be ‘why would you need to look nice?’. Seems to be a case where external advocacy for her could be helpful -but how to do this without being patronising? Can people without learning disabilities ever advocate on their behalf without this being a further violation of independence and autonomy? Realise it’s a distinct issue from autism, but wondered if you had any thoughts.

  25. RE: disabled people as angels….

    I’m reading a book right now called “Mental Retardation in America” (ed. Stephen Noll and James W. Trent, Jr) which is a collection of scholarship about the social construction of intellectual disability in the United States.

    Janice Brockley (“Rearing the Child Who Never Grew”) puts the disabled-person-as-angel thing in this really complicated historical context. In the 1800s, she says, it was more acceptable for parents to keep their disabled kids at home, and live with them when the “kids” became adults. (Unfortunately, the adults with mental retardation weren’t really considered adults, and Brockley argues that intellectually disabled men weren’t really considered men, either). But it was almost perfectly acceptable for a mother to devote herself to her disabled offspring. (As long as she didn’t have any other family members to take care of, anyway).

    But then by the 1900s, doctors started being suspicious of this kind of devotion. They said that parents could harm their kids with disabilities by overprotecting them, devoting too much time to them and neglecting other family members–even that this kind of parental love wasn’t really love at all. There was an idea that mothers kept disabled sons dependent on them, because the mothers were jealous that the sons, as men, got to be out in the public sphere in ways women didn’t. (A lot of professionals felt that the way to be a “good” parent was to put the disabled child in an institution).

    Brockley argues that one place parents found acceptance of their parenting was in religious discourse.

    Another component of the disabled-people-as-angels thing is that society prizes “contributing citizens” and has a very narrow definition of what “contributing” means. So parents who grew up thinking of human value as getting good grades, making good money, etc, had to think of other ways for their kids to be “contributing citizens” if the kids couldn’t do those things. One way to “contribute” was to be sent by God to teach a valuable moral lesson.

    Those appear to be some parts of this phenomenon, anyway.

  26. Madeline’s post reminded me of this nauseating little poem:

    Heaven’s Special Child

    A meeting was held quite far from Earth
    “It’s time again for another birth,”
    Said the angels of the Lord above.
    “This special child will need much love.
    His progress may seem very slow;
    Accomplishments he may not show.
    And he’ll require much extra care
    From all the folks he meets down there.
    He may not laugh or run or play;
    His thoughts may seem quite far away.
    In many ways, he won’t adapt.
    And he’ll be known as ‘handicapped’.
    So let’s be careful where he’s sent.
    We want his life to be content.
    Please, Lord, find the parents who
    Will do this special job for you.
    They will not realize right away
    The leading role they’re asked to play.
    But with the child from above,
    Comes stronger faith and richer love.
    And soon they’ll know the privilege given
    In caring for this gift from heaven –
    Their precious child so meek and mild
    Is ‘Heaven’s Very Special Child.”

  27. I think the “admiration” of the “Oh, you’re so BRAVE for enduring life like that!” type and pity aren’t distinct phenomena. It’s a way of dealing with people who claim they’re not so pitiful, and their life isn’t such a living hell, without having to develop a different view of them. Listen to how often “You’re so brave!” is followed by “I’d just die if I had to live like that!” or something similar. It’s still claiming that life with that disability is a horror, just adding on the faux-admiration of patting people on the back for being able to endure existence.

    Politically, the big thing about pity is that it’s quite possibly the last remaining way of acceptably declaring how inferior someone is and how much the person expressing pity is above them. Normally, people are compelled to make some effort to not openly declare that they consider other people their inferiors/pathetic/horrible/unworthy of life, but dressing any of that in the language of pity leads to people mistaking it for compassion. It’s also why so few people take disability rights seriously; the entire history of sterilizations, forced institutionalization, abuse, and murders has been justified by pity and “compassion”. So it doesn’t look as bad.

  28. This is partly about Philip’s first comment, more generally about compassion and sympathy v. pity.

    A good illustration is in the film, Murderball. Basically, compassion and sympathy for a person with a sudden disability is admitting things are hard right now, that there are specific and immediate difficulties, but not fundamentally or permanently damaged, and not in need of a cure to be made whole. Sympathy’s aimed at a problem and regarded as temporary; pity’s aimed at a person and treated as permanent, or permanent barring radical change.

    It may be good for someone dealing with a suddent shock or trauma to get sympathy. But pity is poison. For someone with a traumatic injury or other sudden disability, it might be helpful to deal with someone who understands that things are hard right now (and generally, the disability rights community understands and accepts this). But facing pity, which tells them that they’re horribly tragically damaged, and will remain tragic and fundamentally damaged until and unless they’re cured, is the last thing anyone needs.

  29. “Sympathy’s aimed at a problem and regarded as temporary; pity’s aimed at a person and treated as permanent, or permanent barring radical change.”

    That makes sense too. It’s helpful to have someone empathize with your immediate emotions, it’s not helpful to have someone “empathize” with your (percieved) non-personhood.

  30. In ‘Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism’, Roy Richard Grinker writes that
    Jeanne Connors is an anthropologist who has
    studied the Navajo Indians of the south-western United States.

    The Navajo suffer appallingly high levels of poverty and deprivation. Alcoholism, depression and deafness (possibly because of chronic ear infections caused by poor sanitation), occur at a much higher rate among Navajos than in the general population. Spinal cord injuries from accidents are common, while because of untreated diabetes many people suffer from blindness, amputations, kidney failure and coronary heart disease. Many children have cognitive impairments, including mental retardation.

    Connors, and most other anthropologists who have worked with the Navajo, found that they treated disabled people with extraordinary compassion.

    Connors found that the Navajo feel no obligation to treat impaired children until they reach the
    age of six, when school begins.

    In her study of autism among the Navajo, Connors found that often autistic people with the most severe impairments were living at home, not in residential institutions. People avoided sending children to institutions because if they were capable of speech they would learn English only, and no one would be able to teach them Navajo customs and folklore.

    Autistic and mentally retarded people-of any age- are seen as being in a perpetual state of becoming.

    Connors was once in a Navajo woman’s house talking to her about Clara, her autistic daughter, who had been sent to the Chinle School of Arizona for the mentally disabled. Clara tended to wander away and get lost, and her mother didn’t know how to stop her. Someone offered to sever the tendons in Clara’s ankles, but the mother refused.

    During the conversation, Clara’s mother told Connors that she had “another one in the back room”. They went to the back of the house and saw a profoundly mentally retarded young man. The government would have paid for his care at Chinle, but his mother had no need or desire to send him there.

    The Navajo word for autism ‘nidiniil geesh’, literally ‘state of unawareness’ is a new word invented by psychologists and Navajo translators in 1989 for the handbook of an Arizona school system.

  31. Sever the kids’ tendons?! What the fuck?

    Wow. You know, I tend to feel that it’s better to keep a child out of an institution if possible, but I don’t think keeping the kid locked up in a back room is a preferable option. Do they ever let him out?

  32. “But admiration – the seemingly opposite and positive alternative to pity – puts the admired person on a pedestal, and denies and ignores their full personality.”

    Admiration and pity are not necessarily opposites. It’s my impression that there’s two types of admiration. The first is admiration for a real accomplishment that took effort on the part of the person and represents a valuable achievement for them, and admiration because they aren’t totally incapacitated by something that is viewed as ‘pitiful’. The second is an extension of pity, while the first is totally different. For example, I admired (in the first sense) this one autistic boy who, in the pool, kept trying and trying to get a toy at the bottom of the pool and finally succeeded. I was impressed by his determination, when had I attempted the same thing I’d have had as much difficulty with much less determination and therefore not gotten the thing at all. I think you can also admire (in the first sense) someone for achieving something that comes easily to you but not them, though most people don’t know how to do this.

  33. “In the second, what is there to choose between them? The main difference is that one is left-handedly dangerous, and the other right-handedly dangerous. The left-handed version may look softer, but give me the fist I can see over the blade I can’t.”

    A lot of left-handed people are offended by the tendency to equate left-handed with sneaky.

  34. On the other hand, some people might infer some kind of sinister influence in your thinking, though you have latched upon a sublety others may have missed.

    See, I just gave you a left-handed compliment!

    [runs away, ducking and jinking}

  35. Reading the “Dyke with CFS” reminded me why, despite being disabled and agreeing with many of the Disability Movement’s goals,I will never join in and flee in fear from other disabled people.I’m the world’s biggest ableist bitch. Every time anyone fails to give her unconditional love or is unable to give her everything she wants, it’s because they are ableist, not because there might be limits to how much abuse they can take from her or because what she wants is not humanly possible. She is never responsible for her own actions,others make her do everything.nothing she wants from others is ever too much,even if it requires heroic sacrifice,including someone’s life, or someone removing themselves from the human condition and becoming an archangel.She is a god and others exist only to serve her, and not being and doing what she wants is evil that should not exist. Sorry, but if someone decides that screaming obsenities is not enough punishment for me and does physical damage that requires surgery, I’m evil enough to consider no longer adoring her and Hitler-like, not seeing her again. Seriously,reading this was scary,and shows me again that disability rights does not include me. having “a society instead of a short war” requires having some ground rules, and disabled people are not automatically exempt. human beings on this Earth have some limits that won’t disappear if you don’t like it. worst of all, There are people (including me) who want to die in a way consistent with their religious beliefs and ideas about when life ends,even if somebody else believes differently.I’m sure this will be removed,but I still believe that i am Ableist because of my ethics and my experience of humanity.

  36. It looks like you read more into that Gage piece than was actually there.

    That article was at one point part of a longer article in which she described the circumstances leading up to it. She had just had to cancel a trip with someone because she realized it would be too restrictive to the other person to have to make all the constant stops and abide by all the strange driving hours and such that she required in order to stay remotely functional.

    She had been passing as able-bodied. That experience reminded her that other people were paying for her passing, not just her.

    Really doesn’t sound like someone who expects everyone to drop everything for her. It does sound like someone who cares about the impact she has on other people.

    She also makes the point that she is accountable for her actions, but that she has to take discussions of that slower because she can’t handle doing it all at once. She’s saying “Hey, it’s not that I’m stopping you from holding me accountable for my actions, it’s just that we have to discuss it more slowly than most people do.”

    She also clearly does not expect people to give up their entire lives for her. She wrote it because she was trying to explain things, including to someone who she’d canceled trip plans with because she didn’t want that person having to give up more of their life than they wanted to to accommodate the fact that she herself had restrictions on how much travel she could handle at a time.

    I also didn’t see her telling anyone to push themselves beyond their limitations, only to not push her beyond hers, and to leave her (personally) alone if they couldn’t help but do so. Which seems like the exact same thing you are asking, so I’m failing to see what’s wrong with her asking the same.

    But after reading your sentence Sorry, but if someone decides that screaming obsenities is not enough punishment for me and does physical damage that requires surgery, I’m evil enough to consider no longer adoring her and Hitler-like, not seeing her again, it sounds as if you have a problem with one other disabled person (or have several disabled people damaged you enough to need surgery?) and are taking it out on others as a result of that, including reading everything some of us write in the most negative way possible and the one most consistent with your view of the one single person you have a problem with.

    If you apply your logic to whatever person hurt you, then surely when you read women saying that asking for their rights to be respected is not contingent on their personality traits, you must assume that they are expecting everyone to let them do whatever on earth they want even if it hurts someone. Or is it only disabled people you have this strange need to generalize about and project the traits of the one disabled person you happen not to like onto any random writer you stumble across?

  37. A quote that isn’t in that article but precedes it:

    Then, in the seventh year of my disability, I seriously overextended myself in an effort to pass. One thing I did was invite a friend to accompany me on a trip to Oregon. She knew I was sick, but she had never really understood what that meant in terms of practical adjustments because our visits together had been brief and I had always passed for able-bodied. After I had invited her for this week-long trip, I realized that I would not be able to protect her from the inconveniences of my disability: We would need to leave in the middle of the night because that was the only time I was well enough, biorhythmically, to cope with the long drive. It was also the only time when the traffic was light enough that I would not need to pull over every ten minutes to distance myself from a polluting vehicle. She would also need to know that I could not eat in restaurants and that motels were too toxic for me — even with the windows open. She would need to accommodate the frequent naps that punctuated my day. She would need to get me home by nine for bed. Our social interactions woudl need to be brief,and any kind of activity requiring physical exertion would be out. My friend was a young and exceptionally athletic dyke, and I knew that she would chafe under these restrictions. I also knew that I was not willing to pass for a week with this condition. And so I uninvited her. Not surprisingly, she was enraged at me. Her anger made me confront the fact that I was not the only one paying for my passing.

    She wrote that article to “come out” to her friends. Half quietly dropped out of her life, half did in fact support her more, and a year later she actually became a lot less sick and a lot more capable. She’d been going it completely on her own, and compromising what were not mere preferences but actual needs, for so long that she had been making herself sicker. (And no, her friends did not give up their entire lives for her, they just started thinking about her differently once she admitted this was what was going on. She doesn’t express any animosity towards the people who did drop out of her life, either.)

    Does that really sound like a person who doesn’t believe she’s accountable for her own actions, who thinks that everyone else needs to simply bend over backwards for her?

    Because to me it sounds kind of the opposite, unless you selectively eliminate parts of what she writes altogether, interpret what is there in the worst possible light you can think up, and then fill in the gaps between what she writes with your memories of someone you don’t like very much.

    She does say at one point that the needs of a disabled person and an able-bodied person don’t balance out. I think it was bad choice of wording. What she meant was, for instance… I have a friend who is violently allergic to dogs. I have a dog. If I want to spend time with that friend, I cannot spend that time in my apartment. It doesn’t matter if I’d prefer it (and I think she should’ve said “preferences” rather than “needs”). It doesn’t even matter whether I can’t leave the apartment. He can’t come into the apartment without possibly experiencing a life-threatening asthma attack. His need to breathe trumps my desire to stay in or even my need to stay in. If I need to stay in, or want to so much that I simply refuse to leave the apartment, then I can’t visit with him, it’s that simple. End of story. It doesn’t make him a control freak or unreasonable to avoid my apartment even if it means not visiting me. It would make me a control-freak and unreasonable to insist upon it anyway, regardless of my reasons.

  38. I did not read “Dyke with CFS” as someone who was at all being “controling.” Even without the additional context that Amanda gives in the last two comments here, I simply read it as coming from someone with high-maintenance medical needs stating in plain, assertive (NOT aggressive) language what her needs were. And stating, correctly, that her need to maintain her health — meaning, not driving herself to several days of complete and utter collapse — trumped over someone else’s whim to stay for “just 15 more minutes” at a party.

    And I also did Not. At. All. read her as wanting to be waived of all accountability for her actions. I simply read her as explaining, calmly but clearly and firmly, that because of her medical needs, any discussion over her behavior would have to be handled (I assume) like pretty much any other conversation with her: meaning, that a multi-hour discussion marathon was just not physically possible for her without paying an unacceptably high price in her health. That any discussion would have to be broken up into smaller chunks and spread over a longer period of time. I’m sure that must be at least as aggravating to her as to the other person.

    Sure, I can see where it might drive a person nuts to be on the other side of that. I’m the kind of person who wants to keep discussing until things are resolved. So if I suddenly had to stop while I was still in the heat of emotion that would be hard on me — I’d probably end up steaming for a while. But as long as the other person DID come back and DID continue on with the discussion (and I got the very clear sense that “Dyke with CFS” was saying she WOULD) … then my steaming would be MY problem, not hers. Eventually the discussion WOULD get done, even under those difficult circumstances, hopefully with some satisfaction on both sides. And I got the sense here that “Dyke with CFS” WOULD change her behavior as needed (i.e, BE ACCOUNTABLE for her actions). It’s just that she would need more time than most people to hold the discussion about HOW that accountability would happen.

    Discussions, even over what seems at the time to be Earth-shattering problems, can generally wait. A person’s health cannot.

    Oh, and I don’t know where you got the sense that “Dyke with CFS” was suggesting that others should ever tolerate being the victim of abuse, physical or otherwise. Because I didn’t get that sense either.

  39. OOOkkk–i need some time to think about the points you raised, some of which were not what i said. i did say that I am disabled myself.I agree that if one person will be harmed by doing something and the other person will not be harmed by not doing it,it should not be done.all people, disabled or not, have limits that need to be respected.you’re right, i have been harmed, repeatedly, by other disabled people, including a time when i could have died and the other person was not harmed by what happened.how dare i object.

  40. Yeah, you did say you were disabled yourself. But Gage was directing that to a group of her able-bodied friends, not her disabled ones, which was part of the point I was trying to make.

    Several disabled people trying to work out how to do things involves a whole different and trickier level of negotiations. Even situations where there isn’t anything bad like you describe going on between the people, it’s really tricky and requires more thinking.

    But note that her original audience was able-bodied. You are taking her writing as if it was directed at you or other disabled people. It wasn’t. It was directed at people who were constantly and inadvertently harming her by treating her like she was able-bodied, and also at people she had inadvertently harmed with her own efforts to pass, and as soon as they understood in full that she wasn’t able-bodied, they changed what they were doing.

    I don’t have any illusions about disabled people, though. We’re people, just like anyone else, we have the full range of personalities and some people have really awful ones. My experiences with other individual disabled people are similar to my experiences with individual abled people: There’s good, there’s bad, and there’s just plain ugly. But the author of that article wasn’t meaning any of those things in the “I’m entitled to everyone in the world changing everything they do for me even if it destroys their lives” sense, not at all. I really think you’re taking the personalities of people you’ve dealt with and putting them over the top of her.

    And of course you have a right to object if mistreated. Seems strange that you wouldn’t.

  41. A bit more. a part i found difficult, and which made me think she did not think she was responsible for her actions, was the part about the problem always being other peoples ableism and never her attitude.if I’m wrong and she objects to people denying the reality of her disablity or not doing something she needs when they can acually do it, i misunderstood, and she is right to object.it appeared to me that she meant that if someone dislikes her or says no to her, it is always because of their ableism, never because she did something that they would not like whether she was disabled or not, or because it was impossible for them to do what she needed.I think it’s possible for a disabled person to do something that would make someone dislike them even if they weren’t disabled, or as you said,have an awful personality, and i was left with the impression that she thought that never happened and and every conflict anyone had with her was because they were ableist. she also said she found it unacceptable if others did not feel empathy toward her.(personal sore point here).it’s possible to misread what another person is thinking, and unless you actually can read minds you can misjudge them.also, nobody has any right to tell anybody else what to think or feel. it’s possible to do what someone needs to have done, and not feel a certain way toward them.

  42. Yes, i am bringing a lot of personal baggage to this, including being harmed because of another’s disability, having people in charge recognizing and accommadating another person’s disability while refusing to acnowlage mine,and some things in the Disability Movement that i cannot agree with.i actually do not feel i have a right to object to being abused,because i have often not been allowed to do so. my life has had a somewhat surreal quality,including there being different standards for me than for others,and things happening that don’t happen to most people.

  43. Seems to me you’ve had unpleasant experiences with:

    1. Some individual disabled people.

    2. The unwritten hierarchy in the disability community.

    Should be noted that the woman who wrote the article is pretty low on that hierarchy herself, having a condition that is still written off by some people as psychosomatic and all in people’s head, which puts it in the realm (in many people’s eyes) of a psychiatric condition or even just a moral/ethical problem in an otherwise “healthy” person, which puts it down at or near the bottom along with autistic people and people with intellectual disabilities. Like you, she’s had her condition mostly attributed to personality traits rather than to anything “real”.

  44. strangefairy:

    If you have “not been allowed to object” when abused, then that in itself is a violation of your rights.

    Double-standards suck, whether they happen within the disability community or in any other context.

  45. I failed to take into account something i did’nt know existed. i must punish myself. I thought incorrect thoughts. more punishment. i remembered my life and that influenced how i viewed something. additional punishment.i made someone above me unhappy. more. i failed to see that someone had above the law status. much more.forced someone to remind me that i am stupid and evil.needs more punishment
    tell me how to make yo happy.i must make you happy and give what you want. tell me and i;ll do it

  46. I didn’t say any of that and neither did anyone else here. We were just trying to talk to you about the content of an article AFAIK, not insisting you had to agree with us or that you had to punish yourself or make us happy or any of the rest of that. You really seem to read a lot into things that just plain isn’t there, including into people’s responses here it seems. Nobody here is ‘above you’, I doubt anyone here sees any reason for you to have to ‘punish yourself’, or as having had ‘incorrect thoughts’ or whatever. Failing to agree with you isn’t a personal attack.

  47. strangefairy: I’ve seen nothing stupid or evil in your responses here. True, some of us disagreed — but good people can disagree with each other without that meaning that anyone is “stupid” or “evil” for thinking differently.

    And, it’s not your obligation to make us “happy.” If someone becomes unhappy just because you think differently from they do, then that’s their problem, not yours.

  48. “I think the “admiration” of the “Oh, you’re so BRAVE for enduring life like that!” type and pity aren’t distinct phenomena. It’s a way of dealing with people who claim they’re not so pitiful, and their life isn’t such a living hell, without having to develop a different view of them. Listen to how often “You’re so brave!” is followed by “I’d just die if I had to live like that!” or something similar. It’s still claiming that life with that disability is a horror, just adding on the faux-admiration of patting people on the back for being able to endure existence.”

    Ironically, I feel uncomfortable about that kind of admiration even for things like coping with abuse, which really is a bad thing to experience. I don’t like the term ‘survivors’ which is used as a way of helping abused people feel ’empowered’ partly because I wonder – who are the victims? I can understand describing someone as a Holocaust survivor or whatever because many people died from the Holocaust, but most sexually abused people survive.
    It also seems to me to have a sense of implying the ‘survivors’ are better than the ‘victims’ – stronger, braver, whatever.

    “How easy is it to forget
    The ones who walked with us, talked with us
    The ones we fought alongside
    They didn’t survive, they fell

    They were as strong as we
    But we can’t see this to be so
    For it would show how little power
    We had in the hour that they died.”

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