Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Keep the Pity

A hat tip goes to The Gimp Parade for the link above. The post comes from Gordon over at Gordon's D-Zone who writes about his childhood experience as a kid with a disability when an able bodied friend was given an award in a local paper for, well, being his friend. He writes:

"I suddenly felt inferior and felt betrayed by my teachers, my schools and all the institutions that supported this prize. Sadly, this prize goes on every year and guess what? Non-disabled boys and girls still receive this prize for ‘being friends’ to their disabled ‘less fortunate’ friends.

Whilst I don’t want to doubt the intentions of the children awarded this prize, I feel that this prize still sends across a message that disabled people are less worthy and if someone should befriend them it’s not because that particular disabled boy or girl has something to offer in a friendship but because the non-disabled boy/girl is indeed ‘generous’ and ‘kind’ for being with these children."

This scenario is not limited to childhood. When people offer friendship or "companionship" out of pity, the signals are clear. There is a sense of "sacrifice" about it that often resembles the long suffering stance of a martyr in a hair shirt. I've seen this many times in volunteer programs where well meaning but misguided volunteers never get over the "pity" factor in their approach with the "less fortunate".

And the sad part of this is it happens due to assumptions. Some people fail to realize that the same rules of relationships apply in a possible friendship with a person with a disability. You have to get to know the person first and see if you want to be his/her friend.

When pity comes up, it places a roadblock in the way. It starts off with the assumption that there will not be any real friendship/relationship with the disabled person like, well, other people because they are, well, different. So instead of getting to know the person and being genuine and authentic about it, "being with" the person is reduced to something akin to community service. It precludes being in a relationship together.

How could that approach not be easy to spot? Of course, what Gordon writes about is a bit different. Two children free of those constraints had a friendship tainted by the assumption that the able bodied kid was friends with Gordon out of pity.

How sad. Because they were probably just having fun together.

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