Wednesday Words: On Being GratefulPosted: September 4, 2013 | |
grate·ful (grātfəl) adj.
feeling or showing an appreciation of kindness; thankful.
There’s a story floating around the internet this week, about a mystery diner who paid for a family’s dinner after seeing the family’s little boy lose his cool in the restaurant. The boy is nonverbal as a result of a severe form of epilepsy. The diner also sent over an anonymous note, which read “God only gives special children to special parents.”
I think everyone agrees that the mystery diner was coming from a kind place. No one could rightly say that the mystery diner had set out to make some kind of damaging statement. In fact, the family seemed overwhelmingly positive about the experience. As far as that family felt that someone in the world not only refused to negatively judge them, but went out of their way to make a kind gesture, I am not upset about that incident.
I’m even bit less upset about the special kids to special parents note, because as damaging as I think it is, I also recognize that I have no idea who those people were and how would they know that their note would be bouncing all over Facebook and email inboxes everywhere.
(For the record, I really do think that the “special parents” thing must stop. It reinforces the misconception that children with disabilities are burdens and not suitable for “regular” parents. If one is willing to accept the premise that certain children are “special”, then one must accept that those children are fundamentally different. Categorizing children in this way is the foundational thinking behind segregation, exclusion, and even selective termination, in my mind.)
What I am upset about, however, is this idea that the I, as a fellow parent of a child with a disability, must be grateful that someone was willing to buy that family dinner.
Sorry, I’m not grateful.
Do I think that mystery diner was evil? Of course not. Do I think that I need to be grateful for every gesture of kindness, however problematic, simply because it involved a child with a disability? No, I really don’t. In fact, I think it hurts more than helps to categorically cheer on stories like this.
I’m not grateful for this story, because in all honesty, that family should have never felt so ground down and judged in the first place. I’m especially not grateful that this story is being passed around as if it is a “win” for the disability community, because frankly, it isn’t. It is a single incident of a person trying to show a very frustrated family that not everyone thought poorly of their child who was struggling in public. A decent individual moment, perhaps, but that is it. I just cannot understand why this would be news.
I can’t find any gratitude within myself in this story, because now it isn’t about the individual family, or even the mystery diner’s intentions. Now, the story is about “amazing person does kind thing for a disabled kid”. Now there are tens of thousands of people around the world who have heard the phrase “God only gives special children to special parents” and think that it is some kind of beautiful truth. Now there are tens of thousands of people around the world who have heard the message that people with disabilities only need kindness and charity, rather than respect and equality.
Lest anyone think I’m a cold-hearted cynic, I will say that I’m grateful that the family had a moment when they felt like the world was not looking down on them. I’m thankful for that, because it hurts my heart to think that any family would struggle with unkind judgement and harsh criticism while trying to do the best for their child, disability or not. The rest? The note, assuming a stranger has a belief in God, separating out children with disabilities as “special”, the use of that child as a help object, and the resulting media flurry? I’m not feeling a ton of gratitude there.
It doesn’t make sense to me that this is news. Or, perhaps more accurately, it depresses me that this is news. Why are half the media stories in my alerts about Down syndrome and disability always feel good inspiration stories? Why is it so hard to get the world to discuss the much more pressing substantive issues that face the disability community today? I know that there is some talk of these more substantive issues, but it isn’t enough.
I have often heard the opinion that if the disability community is too angry, too critical, too picky, then it risks spurning the goodwill of society and therefore losing potentially sympathetic allies. Maybe my critique of this story makes me too angry, too critical, too picky. I’m ok with that, because when it comes to a civil rights movement to replace the charity model that pervades disability advocacy, I am picky. When I see sentiments that I think are harmful to the goals of inclusion and real acceptance, I am critical. When it comes to the constant message that children with disabilities are lesser beings, then I am angry.
Show me a day when these kind of stories cease to be “news”? Then I’ll be grateful.