How many times do you hear ignorant opinions and comments from people you know, those close to you and strangers?
I meet people all the time who come across this. In my line of work, most often, the comments they share with me are around disability. Of course, ignorance hits so many parts of society but this is the area which hits me hard. When people use the work ‘special’ or ‘retard’ (yes, people do still openly use that word, shocker, right?) in a derogatory way to take the piss out of others, what they perhaps don’t realise is that they are verbally abusing my son. They are disrespecting my son and all the other children and adults out there who struggle daily with the challenges of disability.
I look around and feel grateful that we, as a society, have come so far in our ability for compassion, acceptance, inclusion and human kindness. At the same time, I know we still have so far to go.
I have grown a resilience to other people’s ignorance over time and my biggest strength is responding with kindness and compassion, rather than with anger. An angry response from me only gives rise to more tension and less understanding. I see it as my role to educate those around me rather than fight them.
Education is the only way to breed understanding.
Some people are rude and hurtful because they are fearful of what they see, some are uneducated, some just don’t think it through. Some are not surrounded by others who think openly and freely and others are, well, just assholes.
Compared to so many people I meet who are verbally abused in public by strangers or people they know, I feel lucky. I live in an area where, although not particularly diverse, people seem to have the ability for acceptance and understanding. On the whole, our experience has been fairly positive. I think that’s why, when you realise you live in close proximity to someone (who for the record, I’ve never actually spoken to) who holds these outdated and ignorant beliefs and thinks it’s ok to publicly take the piss out of people with Special Needs, I feel pretty shocked. My normal, rational self, would say, that person knows no better. Their opinion doesn’t matter. Just so you know, their opinion absolutely doesn’t matter. I just couldn’t work out why I was feeling so angry about it? Then it dawned on me. This persons kids go to the same school as mine. Their opinions and lack of respect will very likely be passed onto them. They are the next generation who I’m ever hopeful will continue the mantel of acceptance. As adults and parents, our voice is their voice. That parents voice will likely be their voice. What a depressing thought. I’m going to assume that the parent doesn’t realise what is wrong with using that terminology and leave it at that. Most often, people just don’t think.
Children are by nature, fairly accepting of difference. However, as they grow and they are exposed to the nurture element, the opinions of adults who are important in their lives have an impact on them. It’s so important that we teach our children the right way to behave. What hope do we have when the parents show their ignorance so publicly?
I’m so disappointed that it’s so close to home and I hope the children have another source of influence in their lives. I don’t want that type of language being used at school. I worry how it will affect my children. They know their brother has Special Needs and I want them to have the tools to stand up to others and be proud. It is difficult enough to do that as an adult so I know it will be a challenge for them.
When your child asks a question about someone in a wheelchair or someone who looks ‘different’ please don’t shy away from the question. Give them a positive answer. If you don’t know the answer then find out. Share acceptance with them.