Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Pragmatism

"He lifted himself from a wheelchair to lift the nation from its knees.” Biographer Jean Edward Smith on Franklin Roosevelt

As much as I try and steer away from it, I seem to be drawn into discussions about disability and the differing societal attitudes it represents. At the best of times I am a pragmatic thinker, but talking about any kind of disability elicits highly emotional responses. I have been involved in various debates recently on all sorts of issues regarding disability and it seems emotion clouds reason.

As I have mentioned time and time again I hate being disabled. I used to kid myself and say publicly that I wouldn’t change any aspect of my disability. Spend one day in my shoes and you’ll realise that it sucks. That’s not to say I have the worst circumstances in the world, but I’d trade mine any day. Say this to the majority of the disabled community and you are bound to get lynched.

My RampUp colleague Carl Thompson posed a question last night on his Twitter feed that asked what cripples would do if they didn’t have a disability? This question in turn sparked a debate about why he would indeed pose a question like that. It seems the people who respond this way take the power of positive thinking to the point of delusion.

I struggle with the fact that my deficits get unintentionally flaunted in my face every day. It makes me angry. I know that I cannot change my circumstances, but realising that I have that kind of anger is kind of freeing. Being a cripple is fucking shit. I don’t want pity, because it is useless, but it is time people knew that uncomfortable truth.

I have received advice that I need to find some inspiration to focus on my path towards redemption. As only as I can do I chose a politician: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Most people assume that I chose him because he was a cripple too (as result of polio) when he was arguably the most successful President of the United States in its history. This was merely a happy accident or a subconscious ploy I cannot decide which. I chose FDR because he faced two of the biggest crises in world history, The Great Depression and World War II. and not only survived politically but prospered.

The majority of crises only arise in retrospect. For every success that I have had in life, there has been a devastating low. Both of these have arisen as a direct result of my disability. The successes appear to fleeting and the lows seem to ravage my confidence. I have been able to move past them, but they are never forgotten.

I can name perhaps three other people who I believe have an accurate grasp on what it is like to live with a physical disability. The rest it seems appear to be living in a lifelong state of denial under the impression that their disability will make them stronger human beings, or that their disability gives them a greater purpose. I used to be one of those people.

Perhaps that’s why I have turned into something of an attack dog at RampUp. The fact that the site has a cross section of contributors is to its advantage. Highly intelligent people get to tell their stories. However, more and more articles try and relate the author’s experience of having a disability to the reader. The fact is that no one knows what its like to have my disability, nor do I know what it is like for another person to have a disability, even if its Cerebral Palsy. So apart from my introductory article, I have made it my mission to highlight the problems with society's attitudes towards disability.

It has shaped me as a human being more than anything else. It has allowed me to have some great triumphs, but it is dominated with daily struggles that I barely have the strength to overcome. Concessions are made to make life easier, but most of the time. I am held hostage by my circumstances. I will remain pragmatic for my entire life.

3 comments:

  1. Hi Todd,

    Yep, couldn't agree more. While I don't generally think of myself as a pragmatist (the process of getting somewhere can be important) I totally get where you're coming from.

    I've been going through some of these issues myself in the last little while. I've decided that I can't realistically expect empathy from my friends. Even the expereriences of my blind friends are so radically different from mine, so yeah, I get to stand alone on that score.

    I get some understanding from some people, but honnestly I no longer think any sighted person has any kind of understanding about what it's like to be blind. Given I can't get my colleagues to even leave the kitchen in an orderly state at work, I'm giving up the idea as impossible.

    So while I have no way of understanding your circumstances, at least I'll sympathise on this position.

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  2. Todd, I know you encourage debate, so that's why I"m going to comment on this entry.

    This is an offensive and belittling paragraph to me, and no doubt other friends of mine and yours:

    'I can name perhaps three other people who I believe have an accurate grasp on what it is like to live with a physical disability. The rest it seems appear to be living in a lifelong state of denial under the impression that their disability will make them stronger human beings, or that their disability gives them a greater purpose. I used to be one of those people.'

    While we don't share the same level of severity in disabilities, I certainly know, accept and feel the frustrations of living with a disability.

    And while our level of physical freedom is somewhat incomparable, we are both intelligent and can make a positive difference to our lives, and to other people with and without disabilities.

    You are making a difference to disability policy - every piece of writing you produce is influencing the future for us by raising important political issues. But I feel your attitude towards the people within the disability community - those *with* disabilities is not collegiate, supportive, empathetic or respectful.

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  3. I mean no offence Carly, but the section you quote above is an honest account of what I believe to be true. Earlier posts in my archive point to this trend.

    Whilst I understand we have a difference of opinion on this subject my intent is to call it is I see it. Frankly I don't share collegial feelings for other people with disabilities. Whilst I like and respect some people who share disabilities it is not because of their disability. It's because we share common personality traits and/or interest.

    That was one of the points of this post, and its a trap that is prevelent when framing important debates surrounding disability issues. My experience is different to yours and vice versa. Uniform opinions and policies do not suffice. My disability is a hurdle I have to overcome and I hate it.

    This honesty may not be popular or politically correct, but is in my opinon accurate.

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