While introducing a song entitled “Hope,” a local San Diego musician gave an inspirational pep talk that exemplifies what I have heard time and time again. To paraphrase: Everyone goes through hard times and the only things within your control are your attitude and your effort. With a good attitude and if you try hard enough, you will get through it.
He’s not wrong, exactly. He’s just talking about some subset of people to which I do not belong. They are folks whose “hard times” can be gotten through with the right attitude and sufficient effort. I’ve watched it happen, so I know attitude and effort work for many. I’m just not one of them.
Attitude can accomplish a great deal, like when I focus on what I might learn from a situation or the humor that exists within a predicament. It cannot, however, transform steps into a ramp. Similarly, my attitude can’t morph someone’s ignorant behavior into a more palatable experience. Being treated badly can be endured; Being denied access to something cannot be overcome by the powers of positive thought.
Similarly, effort is problematic for me. My chronic illness limits my energy leaving me with definite constraints on the sweat I can expend. Thus, I do not have the luxury of endless get-up-and-go necessary to fix misfortunes.
Perhaps the key here is what the musician meant by hard times. I’m fairly certain he wasn’t referring to the kinds of situations I encounter. Instead, he means troubles universal to all human beings such as the death of a parent, having something stolen or getting your heart broken.
What rang false as I listened to his pep talk are all the things I encounter each day that are unique to people with disabilities. Inaccessibility, lack of accommodations and people’s ignorance create some of the most distressing problems I come across. Attitude and effort cannot resolve all of them. Sometimes, I’m left with lousy circumstances not of my making and beyond my ability to fix. With them, speeches about attitude and effort leave me feeling hopeless not hopeful.
Case in point. I’m dealing with the way social perceptions of disability make friendships harder and reduce my chance of finding a mate. Emotional intimacy is as central to my mental health as calories are to my physical well-being. I cannot force people to befriend me nor can I change how they perceive me by thinking positively. If someone keeps you from food, eventually you will suffer physically. If what keeps me from adequate human connection is other people, how is that really different? How is trying hard or having a good attitude going to feed my soul?
I never know what to say to people like this musician. For them, effort and attitude work and I do not want to discount that. Unfortunately, he is talking about peeling apples while I’m trying to peel oranges.
So, I sit in the audience feeling like I do not belong alienated by someone who is just trying to help people get through tough times. I become the invisible other apart from the crowd I inhabit and isolated from the human experience being referenced.