Thursday, March 10, 2011

Inspiration in Particular, Inspiring in General

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A blog reader asks, in relation to my lament against a person with a disability being automatically characterized as an inspiration, "Why can't you just be gracious and accept the good will that's being offered to you?"

If the question is directed at me, I can say I do, although admittedly my graciousness consists of a nod and a smile.

If the question is directed at people with disabilities as a class, I think the point is been missed, that point being it demands a standard no one can live up to all the time. It robs the person with a disability the right to a fallible human response to situations encountered.

A writer I admire left a note about the subject on Facebook quoting Dylan Thomas' poem, "A Refusal to Mourn The Death, By Fire, of a Child in London," which she suggests "the idea that as soon as we start eulogizing someone, we start fictionalizing their actual experience of life and actual personality, and co-opting what was once theirs for our own purposes."

With that insight in mind, I suppose the question then becomes Why does someone want to classify a person with a disability as "an inspiration?"

The only way I can understand that thought is to turn it upside down: why do I find certain people inspiring? 
There are hundreds of people and hundreds of reasons from the historic (Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Chamberlain) to people in the news.

With those three penned here from the top of my head, I sense that I am inspired by moral or physical courage. I suppose I am an average sort. Few there are who will argue physical or moral courage is uninspiring. We humans are apparently wired to respect those qualities because we instinctively realize they work for the common good.

But it takes no great degree of moral or physical courage to live using a wheelchair. For me it may only be a bastard marriage between fear (of death) and (genetic) endurance. 

That I use a wheelchair and want to be happy and productive means Nothing (in the Zen concept) and Many Things Not Entirely True (in the subjective emotional perceptions of the observer). 

And to me: it apparently means I think about it too much.

3 comments:

Glynis Jolly said...

Why are people without disability expected to be so passionately concerned about how what they say is being received by some one who is disabled? Why can't we, people with disability just accept what the able-bodied say at face value? I have been disabled for almost 39 years now. I want to be treated kindly but don't want to be treated as if I'm so breakable. It seems to me that you want able-bodied to treat you exactly the way you want to be treated without them knowing zilch about you.

Gary said...

Let's rephrase the first question as "Why are white people expected to be so passionately concerned about how what they say is being received by African-Americans?"

I don't need to rephrase the second question in the same fashion, do I?

People of goodwill all choose to use language that doesn't denigrate other people.

I have no problem if someone thinks I'm an "inspiration." I cannot tell other people how to think, how to perceive the world.

What I can do is say that thinking me -- or any other person with a disability -- is an "inspiration" simply because we live with a disability is wrong-headed, generally incorrect, and suggests a heroic quality that further propagates the idea that disability cannot be part of the mainstream culture.

Gary said...

Oh, by the way, I visited your blog site, Glynis, and I liked what you're accomplishing there.