Barriers to inclusion: Pity

I’d like to address one of the barriers to inclusion directly. Pity.

David over at Growing up With a Disability wrote about the role of pity and how it can block inclusion. He wrote in part:

“Pity promotes the view of charity rather than the view of inclusion. Charity for pity divides people into 2 groups, the “haves” and the “have nots”. The premise is that the person who “has” will help the person who “does not have,” because the “haves” feel sorry for the “have nots”, rather than because it is the morally appropriate action to do. Unlike pity, inclusion encourages respectful dialogue to discuss ways to adapt to the obstacles of society.”

Pity in and of itself, as David also points out, is a negative. Period. I don’t even want to add a noun there. Because we can call pity an emotion or a feeling, but then it makes it sound as if we can’t do anything to change it. I don’t believe that. I think pity is a reaction that is learned and, in some cases, almost programmed in as a reaction to disability in our society. It’s not a helpful reaction because it creates walls.

Why? Simply put, while a person is experiencing pity, it blocks not only a dialogue, as David points out, but can become the reason for objectifying and pushing away a disabled person because being around him/her is seen as “painful” or difficult. However, what is really happening is that the reaction itself (pity) is painful and difficult – and that can be reprogrammed or reset to a different, more positive one.

Today we all hear alot of talk about the worthlessness of self pity. People extol not wasting time feeling sorry for oneself. So why do we continue to waste that energy feeling sorry for someone else – when it does no good? Feeling sorry for me because I can’t get into a non accessible bathroom, for example, does me no good. Asking me what I need is, on the other hand, helpful. The difference between these reactions sometimes is that the person sets aside his/her reaction of pity and chooses a different reaction.

When we consider what inclusion is about we need to look at the attitudes and behaviors that are blocking a dialogue toward it. Let’s put pity on the back burner and concentrate on talking about ways we can all adapt to the obstacles that remain as we work toward inclusion.

copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan


Filed under essay

8 responses to “Barriers to inclusion: Pity

  1. thank you for posting this. you’re definitely right, pity in the case of posterchildren is a learned behavior.

  2. Pity, in my view, is demeaning, destructive, and a key factor in why society continues to put up so many infrastructural and legal barriers to full participation for all people with disabilities. If not for pity, maybe people would have an easier time grasping the concept that disability rights is HUMAN rights.

    I wonder if you have given any thought to blogging at some point about the ADA Restoration Act of 2007? You might know that a series of court decisions over the years have undermined the original intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The Restoration Act is meant to repair that damage.

    If you ever do a blog post on the ADA Restoration Act, please let me know becaue I have been trying to link to all the ones I can find in my continually up-dated list at I’d love to be able to include yours as well. I have been trying to encourage as many bloggers as possible to blog on this topic!

  3. Andrea,
    Thanks for your comments.

    I have blogged on the ADA Restoration Act over at my blog Wheelie Catholic. I believe it’s already been put up over at Reunify Gally by another reader, but if not feel free to add it.

  4. Hi, I was very interested to see this post since I also recently wrote about pity, but I had a different perspective. I agree that pity in regards to disability is always a bad thing. I discuss this more in my recent post. But I also think that some kinds of pity are a loving act. I am hesitant in that stance because I do feel the separation you’re talking about, how pity divides you from another person. But I still believe that when expressed towards someone who truly is in a sad place in their lives which they themselves don’t realize, can be a gracious and noble act. See the post here for more detail:

    I’d love to talk more about it with you since I think that pity is a really interesting feeling, one that I never learned about as a child or understood. It is very complex and as I argue, has good sides and bad sides. I’m interested to hear your thoughts.

  5. Frogger-
    I read your post which deals with a different kind of situation. I’m not sure we’re defining pity the same way. When you talk about your friend and how you acted, my reaction was to think of that as compassion rather than pity. But you’re making a good point here since compassion probably is mixed up with pity sometimes – or else we’re just defining words differently!

  6. thanks for your nice activity,
    may be i need my self blog

  7. thank you, Excellent article

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s