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