I have always noticed and assess how I feel when someone helps me. Probably at the moment of my birth I had an opinion about the person catching me. In this blog, entries such as Is Approach More Important Than Act? and Why I feel How I Feel are just two cases where I dissect helping behavior and my feelings. Apparently my head is denser than lead because it has taken thirty-nine years to realize it is a question of kindness versus fairness.
Yesterday morning I attended a meeting of people who facilitate the discussion groups at my local LBGT Center. As you might imagine, that room was overflowing with kindness which is why I was shocked at the discussion surrounding a disability issue. A member of one discussion group seems to have a mental health condition whereby they are frequently off-topic and obsessed with Hot Pockets. I pointed out that this behavior could be a result of a cognitive disability beyond the person’s control and the facilitator could use some simple techniques to refocus the speaker. The touchy-feely response was that this person needed help and support beyond a peer facilitator’s scope and should be directed to counseling as an alternative to attending the group. Accommodating a trait based on disability in order to include a disabled person was rejected mostly because it didn’t “help” the Hot Pocket Obsessed Person with their perceived issues. I wanted to slap the kindness out of them and replace it with a sense of fairness.
At first distinguishing between an act of kindness and something done out of a sense of fairness might seem difficult. After all, both are based on an individual’s subjective assessment of what act fulfills the dictates of that particular situation. Being kind, however, involves going beyond what is necessary to do that which is exceptional. It is an emotion-based behavior revolving around empathy, sympathy, and sometimes commiseration. In contrast, fairness means simply doing whatever is needed to achieve a desired balance. The differentiating element is whether the person is doing what is required or choosing to do something extra, which means that kindness is optional and subject to personal whim.
When people help me out of kindness, I find myself gritting my teeth. How, exactly, can I take exception with a behavior motivated by such altruism? “Thank you for helping me shop for a gift, but becoming irritated when I wanted a specific color that was hard to find wasn’t helpful.” That would be an ungrateful response because the person was going above and beyond the call of duty. The same response given to someone acting upon a sense of equity transforms the statement into a topic to discuss and resolve.
I’m not disregarding kindness entirely. Obviously there is a place in the world for behavior based on empathy and a desire to be nice, but when an issue of disability accommodation becomes a matter of kindness, it relegates us to second class status. Suddenly the whimsicality of kindness dictates whether or not we receive what we need to fully participate in society. Far better to have it be an issue of equity that can be debated; a matter of logic and reason rather than the whim of an individual heart.
Today I joyfully participate in the sixth Blogging Against Disablism Day. Many members of the blogosphere, whether disabled or not, are letting their voices be heard on all aspects of what it means to be disabled. Go forth and read their contributions.