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Exiting the Land of Normal
Finding yourself treated as an exception, not a person
Previously, I shared an essay on teaching children philosophy, and refusing to treat them as “defective adults.” I’m sharing your stories of finding yourself pushed out of the category of “normal adults” as children or at any age.
Coretta had a hypothesis about what it takes to recognize someone else as human.
I think part of counting someone else as human is acknowledging we can learn something from them and/or need their help. That we actually need them so that we can become more fully human.
I’m sympathetic to this to a point, but I feel like there are people who are profoundly dependent, whom we can and should value, without being able to point to something they give us. But that might be my own limited experience with the deeply disabled speaking.
Margaret Swinger has an excellent piece in Plough ("The Teacher Who Never Spoke”) about the unexpected gifts offered by her brother who could neither walk nor talk, but became a mentor to other members of the community.
I wanted to share this post from JD Flynn, on making accommodations for others.
He’s written about his children, two of whom have Down Syndrome, here.
I have realized they are not unique because they suffer. They are unique because they do not hide suffering well. It does not occur to them that suffering might be secret or a source of shame. I mask anxiety with a veneer of confident affability. I know how to make it seem I am doing better than I am. I have picked up the idea that I should project strength, independence and poise.
My children have no such pretenses. They are exposed and vulnerable, and they challenge me to live that way.
Christine and Lori noted how little it took to push them out of the demographic that the world around us is prepared to accommodate. In Christine’s case, it was a broken ankle that barred her way to an inaccessible Apple store. For Lori, it was ceasing to color her grey hair.
The difference in the way I was treated was shocking. Suddenly I disappeared in the eyes of many people, and I was treated like I was feeble-minded and barely tolerated. There was a little increased deference, but that doesn't help your feelings when you are being treated like you are in a different class of people—old and discarded.
KG noted that her workplace trained women in how to be comprehensible to men, but not vice versa.
Around the time when I first started at my current workplace, the women’s leadership group at work offered a seminar on how to effectively communicate at work, particularly when persuading our male counterparts. It taught us to rein in our emotions (a “more female” trait than male) in favor of facts, which were more professional and were more effective to our male counterparts. It didn’t strike me till years later that curiously, I’ve never heard of a corresponding seminar offered for my male coworkers regarding how to more effectively communicate with us.
In my middle school, when they split us by gender for puberty talks, the girls learned about female and male experiences, while the boys only learned about themselves. (The school did not explain the logic of this choice to us).
Vikki provided a lovely counterexample to seeing children as “defective adults.” She shared an article on the creators of the Klutz activity books. (I grew up with these!) She highlighted this quote from the piece:
His subversiveness seeps out in the books he writes, which are filled with winks, nods and attitude. The products are partisan to kids. Adults are treated as obstacles to pleasure, like ghosts of children who learn words for big feelings and forget the emotions themselves.
There’s not so much sass at my daughter’s Montessori pre-school, but there is a faith that children are interested in the world, and that their interest should be treated seriously.