In a Nation (and world) Divided, Kindness Matters

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The country in which I live is reeling from an unprecedented and divisive Presidential election. Are we going to drown in the wake of hatred that threatens to overcome our land? I beg you to be kind to one another. Now, maybe more than ever, we desperately need it.

There are people in the United States and beyond who are hurting and afraid. This includes religious and ethnic minorities, the LGBT community, people with disabilities, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, or even anyone who has felt different or mocked or had their rights oppressed. Many of them are feeling vulnerable, and those feelings should not be dismissed. Even if your vote was different from theirs I would encourage you to treat them with compassion and respect and make an attempt to understand their concerns.

When the pinnacle of a country’s power is attained by a person who openly acts unkind (I can make a list of examples, I just choose not to) it makes you wonder if the people in that country value kindness. For any of us who have ever been discriminated against or felt “other”-ed by those with power, it makes us sad and uncomfortable.

We are not just afraid because of who won the election, we are also afraid of how we will be treated by those we encounter in day-to-day life. Judging by accounts I have read it is apparent those fears are valid.

Story after story has emerged of individuals being subjected to hateful treatment by their fellow human beings, and it began even before the final votes were tallied.

Earlier in the week a young man in a wheelchair attended a Trump rally to protest, saying “I wanted to go because Donald J. Trump made fun of disabled people.” The Washington Post reports that as he and his Mother were escorted out, “Trump supporters near them started pushing her son’s wheelchair, and calling her a ‘child abuser’ and telling others to ‘grab her p—y’.”

As a mother and a member of the disability community this horrifies me. Did his choice to exercise his right to make a peaceful protest warrant such treatment?

Stories are pouring in. They run the gamut of intensity from snide, insulting comments, all the way to physical violence and destruction of property. Many of the stories are directly connected to people I know or their friends.

A friend of my sister shared that the day of the election one of her children’s black classmates was asked by another student, “Are you packed yet?”

Jennifer Boyle, an extended family member who teaches in a Denver public school, shared this disturbing encounter endured by one of her students:

“A, a 16 year-old black female, told me she was spit on this morning by a white male Trump supporter on her walk to school. After he spit on her he ripped the Hillary sticker off her backpack. No bystander, of which there were many, intervened”.

Jennifer also wrote of the myriad of emotions experienced by her students the morning after the election: Continue reading

Why Some “Good Deed” Stories Can Do More Harm Than Good

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Another day, another “feel-good” story. But what if these stories actually do more harm than good? Before you judge me for being cynical, let me explain.

What often happens is there is a person who has some sort of disability and they might also need some assistance. Then some “typical” person decides to be kind and help them. Usually that’s fine. Great even. We should reach out to our fellow humans. The world needs more genuine compassion and caring.

Sometimes a third-party happens to witness the scene, and interprets it as the grand gesture of an amazingly generous individual who took their time to help out a poor, pitiable and helpless disabled person. Then pictures are taken without asking the permission of all the parties involved, because they want to spread the amazing, feel-good story throughout all kinds of news outlets and social media platforms. Still sound great?

There is nothing inherently wrong with positive stories about people with disabilities or tales of good deeds. It’s the motivation behind it or the way the subject is handled that can be problematic. Sometimes the individual performing the good deed or telling the story does so with motives other than just being kind to someone else; sometimes they do it for notoriety.

In other cases I don’t doubt that the overall intention of the story tellers was good, yet somehow things took a turn. Often that is the fault of the tactics used by the media, who love a heart-tugging, viral story. News sources often spread these “feel-good” messages at the expense of the dignity of their subjects, presenting the person with a disability as merely a pawn in someone else’s story. It is designed to make US, not them, “feel good,” and praises and elevates the person performing the “good deed.” These stories do all that at the expense of the recipient, often without their consent. Stories like this are commonly referred to as “Inspiration Porn.” Continue reading

Autism DOES NOT Create Mass Murderers

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Autism does NOT equal mass shooter. However, the media often includes information in their stories that may lead the general public to make that assumption. Right now the tragic and senseless shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon is all over the news, as well as the subject of Autism. For example, the Today show ran a news clip on 10/6/2015 (the day of this post), with the description that “Information about the gunman in last week’s mass shooting in Oregon is emerging, indicating that his mother may have had an impact on his fascination with guns.” Then the first part of the piece proceeded to discuss not guns, but Autism. Here is a link to the clip:

http://www.today.com/video/new-details-emerge-about-oregon-shooters-mother-539317827583

The reporter Miguel Amaguer says, “Starling new revelations about the mother of Chris Harper-Mercer, a shooter who killed nine people at Umpqua Community College last week. For over a decade Laurel Harper, a registered nurse, offered online advice on various medical issues like Asperger’s Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum disorder that she wrote both she and her son struggled with.”

The story also mentioned that Harper wrote of dealing with a “screaming autistic head banger.” Why was that necessary? It then without explanation segued into the portion that was actually related to the story’s description: that the mother’s involvement with guns and the way she exposed her son to them may have possibly helped contribute to her son’s obsession with firearms.

So what was the link that viewers were supposed to make between the “new information” about Autism within the family, and the new information about their involvement with guns? What was Today trying to imply? Why was Autism even relevant to a story that seemed to be about the fact that the mother taught her son how to shoot guns?

It seemed to me to be to be a sensationalistic treatment of Autism, NOT relevant to the story, and disrespectful to Autistic people in general.

Stories like these are potentially damaging and can help foster the fear and stigma that is so often faced by Autistic individuals.

(Update: I did not address the gun issue in this post because this is a discussion about Autism. My point is that the news report purported to be about guns, but then also included seemingly unrelated information about Autism. I am not making any sort of commentary about guns one way or another. While it is an important discussion, that was not my focus here.)

Years ago, while the world was reeling from what transpired at Sandy Hook, best-selling Author John Elder Robison wrote an article for Psychology Today called “Asperger’s, Autism, and Mass Murder.” Speculation had arisen then, as now, that the shooter may have had Asperger’s. Robison is himself Autistic (he describes himself using both terms Asperger’s and Autistic), and warned, “Let’s stop the rush to judgment.” He also stated plainly, “Correlation does not imply causation.”  Continue reading