The Dangers of Judging Self-Determination With One Ruler

I’m always struck by how people use one ruler in life to measure all kinds of things. A ruler works equally well on any object. You can measure a couch or a thimble, a kitchen counter or a doorway.

But using one ruler to measure people is dangerous. It’s particularly harmful when it’s done to judge self-determination in people with disabilities.

Everyone’s situation is different. Disabilities vary, even with the same diagnosis, and support systems vary. Some people have better financial resources. Others have multiple disabilities. What one person does may show a great degree of self determination, while for another person that may not hold true. It’s sad that in our society we fail to recognize the efforts people do make rather than criticize what we don’t understand. It doesn’t just put down the object of our derision – it’s because our society is using one ruler.

It can be hurtful to have this done , whether it’s by a professional, such as a doctor or social worker, or a disabled or able bodied friend or family member. Words hurt, labels stick and self esteem is affected.

What strikes me from talking to pwd and reading their writings is how likely pwd are to have their self-determination judged. Society may deem some of us inspirational – if we meet or exceed their standards. But if we don’t, then the ugly labels start to appear – like self pity or lazy or ‘having a sense of entitlement’. Although it is sometimes true that a pwd needs to be motivated out of a state of inertia, flinging judgments at him or her doesn’t seem to be a great way to do this. And it turns pwd off. One person I talked to got to who suffered from chronic pain and was constantly criticized for not doing more eventually said to professionals “Chart this!” and rolled out of the room.

I’m all for self- determination. It helps all of us get through life. I just think we all need to remember that we’re not measuring objects, but people. And that takes more than one ruler. Our right to judge another human so harshly is yet another issue.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan

1 Comment

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One response to “The Dangers of Judging Self-Determination With One Ruler

  1. I’ve never looked at measurements this way. Thanks for giving me a new perspective!

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