Figuring It Out

You haven’t read anything from me since early last week. It’s not because I got sick and ended up I the hospital or anything dramatic like that. I just haven’t been feeling me lately. I’ve not had a bad week but I’ve not had a great one. Sometimes that happens. To look at me you’d probably not notice much, if any difference. Most of the time I look neither disabled nor chronically ill, yet both of those I am.

Neither of those necessarily has anything to do with the other of those. I, you, or anyone else can be one, the other, both, or neither, and it would all be perfectly normal. Except for those who are not perfectly normal.

If I had to pick which to be I’d go with the neither option. Being chronically ill is a little easier in society. There are lots of support groups for almost any chronic illness you can name, from “basic” high blood pressure to the more exotic diseases and conditions of which two have taken residence in me. Most chronic illnesses do not result in a disability but the ones that do quite make up for that vast silent majority of those that don’t. Even those leave most people looking like there is little, if any wrong goings on under an otherwise fairly healthy looking skin.

Being disabled is also no picnic. I’m lucky that I still have most of my abilities available. I might be able to imagine a world where I am dependent on others for daily functions that you take for granted like washing behind your ears or making a cup of tea. But I can’t imagine what it’s like to be dependent on people’s foresight and planning to permit me to do those other things you take for granted like opening a door or stepping up onto a curb.

Whether overtly disabled, like a paraplegic in a wheelchair, or with a hidden disability that doesn’t affect mobility until you’ve taking the first 30 steps then can go no farther, there isn’t a whole lot of acceptance and accommodation going on out there. Wearing ribbons and outlining parking spaces in blue just don’t add that much to my quality of life. Sorry.

If you don’t read “Help Codi Heal” you should. Codi is a young wife and mother of three who was living her life when she was injured in a fall two years ago and now is living her life in a wheelchair. Because she is seen differently now, in a recent post she wondered how she would teach her children to accept life’s differences. Her dilemma came as she wondered how you teach acceptance of differences without pointing out the differences. Her not quite 4 year old taught her children don’t have to be taught acceptance. They are naturally accepting. So then, the new dilemma is how do you get them to stay that way?

NoHPaccessI think the answer is, you don’t. Leave it alone and let the children grow into being accepting adults organically. They won’t turn out to be ogres. I’m certain the amount of non-acceptance is directly proportional to a society’s extent of sensitivity training. The more we try to “teach” acceptance, diversity, inclusion, and affirmation, the more we turn away, divide, exclude, and deny.

Our attempts at equal rights for anything have never really succeeded. We manage to call so much attention to the inequalities and attempting to right past wrongs we never get around to actually addressing the actions that made the thing wrong.

Let me tell you a true story. In 1972, I applied for a summer job at the local steel mill. That was when many companies were feeling pressure from regulators to comply with what was then called affirmative action, ten years after the regulations went into effect. I went through all the necessary applications and tests and was in an interview with the personnel manager who told me that he’d love to hire me but he really needed “a black or female student to even things up” for that summer. No discussion of my ability or inability to do the job, just what he needed to do to “even things up.” That phrase stayed with me and at every job I ever applied for in the next 40 years I heard it in my head. I always wondered if I’d be competing against any minorities and would I be unfairly dismissed because I wasn’t one. Real or no, that was a perception that stayed with me for a lifetime.

Forty years later when I was the hiring manager, I was required to give each applicant a form to voluntarily complete after the interview. It asked the applicant’s sex (male, female, other), race (optional), ethnic background (of a select handful), and veteran status. This was sealed and sent to a third party to tabulate to determine if we were interviewing from a pool of applicants representative of our local population. No question of the job we were interviewing for, education or experiential requirements for the job, or if the applicants who responded were representative of the population. Real or no, pressure was felt every time I had to make a decision among applicants of diverse backgrounds, even if their professional backgrounds were also quite diverse.

How do we address the elephant in the room? If you ask a roomful of 3 year olds they would probably say, “Look, an elephant! Let’s play.” How do we get the three year old grow up to be 23 with that same innocence and acceptance? Just leave them alone.

They’ll figure it out.


2 thoughts on “Figuring It Out

  1. Really great post and so insightful. The affirmative action thing is such a double edged sword. Anyway, thanks for getting me thinking and I hope you get to feeling yourself again soon.

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