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Posts Tagged ‘epilepsy’

One of the reasons I have loved my return to teaching is that at some point early on in my return, I had the epiphany that teaching English was a wonderful opportunity to help mold better humans.

How so? In my classes, we read a lot: books, essays, short stories, poems…well, maybe not so many poems. ┬áI’m still working on my poetry analyzing skills, but the point is, we read.

A lot.

And then we discuss.

That is when I feel like I am helping to mold better human beings. We talk about the choices characters, major or minor, make. Would we make the same choices? Would we not? Why? There are never right or wrong answers. When it comes to discussion, I don’t believe there are wrong answers as long as you can back up what you are saying with contextual evidence.

I believe that if you can find some way to relate to characters in a book, whether you like them or not; if you can understand the choices characters make in a book, whether you agree with them or not, then you are more likely to have a capacity for empathy.

To me, empathy, true empathy, is something that makes each and every one of us better. Empathy allows each of us to take at least a moment to walk in another person’s shoes, to live the life they lead, to experience the path they take. It prompts us to choose kindness.

***

Yesterday I attended a presentation from a speaker who had some good ideas. My perspective on certain things were challenged, but for the most part I felt that I was actually getting something out of it…

…that is until the end when this speaker chose to close her presentation by gleefully making fun of those who need certain accommodations in the world in order to have access to a life the rest of us have.

She essentially said that accommodations like signage letting people know where to stand was an example of society falling apart. Slide after slide she continued to talk about the absurdity of needing signs that said, “Please don’t run” or “stand back to respect patient privacy” or “don’t stand on toilet”. There must have been ten, fifteen, maybe twenty slides, each inciting ever growing laughter from the crowd…

…each a slap in the face to Brooke, my autistic and epileptic daughter, and individuals like her that may need a little help knowing where to go, what to do, or when to do it. Each slide the laughter rose as did my concentrated rage.

According to the presenter, we shouldn’t have these ridiculous accommodations, because ┬ánobody should need them – people should just learn them. Apparently Brooke’s needs are not worthy. Apparently the needs of those like Brooke are not worthy.

The more people laughed, the angrier I became; not at the audience – they had been set up to laugh. No, my rage was directed solely at the presenter who should have known better. She is a social and emotional behavior “expert”. Today I put that in quotes quite purposefully.

She went after a group of people who are vulnerable for laughs. She went after those who most need the rest of us to be empathetic. She was punching down.

Here’s the thing: I am a big fan of teasing. Teasing those we know well can help solidify our bonds. But the key is teasing should generally happen between people who know each other, people who care about each other, people who understand each other. Teasing allows us to self-reflect and acknowledge our own shortcomings…we all have them.

But when you tease an entire group indirectly, especially a vulnerable group for the sole purpose of getting laughs from a group you perceive as an “us” vs an “other”, then you’re behaving like a bully.

I don’t know this presenter well enough to know whether she is a bully or not, but her actions were that of a bully.

Whether the presenter realizes it or not, she sees my Brooke, and those like her, as less.

She and those like her are NOT less. She and those like her deserve to be treated with dignity. She and those like her should have access to the rich experience of life, just like the rest of us.

Accommodation, no matter how absurd it may feel to you or me, gives normalcy to someone who needs it; it allows those who this woman would classify as “others” to be part of “us”.

We all deserve to be “us”.

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