“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What is the standard?

I had an interesting interaction with a friend the other day. He is a man who uses a wheelchair who attends an adult Bible class I teach at my church. He was sharing some challenges he faces in his life with relationships with various people. In response I would tell him what I understood to Bible to prescribe. So if he is interacting with a person who is impatient, the Bible would say that as Christians we should be patient...we are the Christians in the situation. If another person who is a Christian acts in a nonChristian manner, we are responsible to still act as a Christians. Independent of what the other person does in a relationship, we are still responsible to act as Christians.
A couple of days later, we were having lunch when he asked, "Why is it always the diabled person who has to act like a Christian and not the nondisabled person?"
I thought it was an interesting question on a variety of levels. My immediate response was, "I am not speaking to you as a disabled person or as a disabled Christian, I am speaking to you as a Christian." I think that was enlightening to him (although disheartening to me in that I must project to him that I see him as a disabled person). But it is true that we expect more and better from people with disabilities I think. It is true in special education. When we write objectives we either pull criterion percentages out of the air, or we have too high or too low expectations for a person we are hoping to educate. I have always tried to tell the teachers I am working with to look at the environment that the person you are working with is going into. If it is time on task at work, how much time does the average worker spend on task. If it is accuracy, how accurate is the average worker at the task. There is also discrimination which must be taken into account, however.
There is the research study about the man with mental retardation who was about to loose his job. People from the agency facilitating employment asked why. The response was that he repeated topics at break too much (which is an indication of the discrimination of the workplace, not the skill deficits of the man). Anyway, the researchers determined how often the man's coworkers repeated topics, and worked with the man till he did not repeat topics any more than any of the coworkers. When he was repeating topics at the same level as coworkers, they asked the boss how he was doing. To their dismay, the boss said there had not been any significant change. You see it was a problem with the enviornment. The environment needed to be changed.
I think that is what my friend was getting at. It didn't matter how good he would get at being a Christian, he would always be expected to be better, and would be vilified for the smallest of infractions because of the difference he brought to any interaction, because he uses a wheelchair. So there is a sensitivity there that relates to the previous post about wounding. A sensitive individual who has acquired a disability will become even more sensitive because of the other wounds which are piled on the functional impairment. I compare how I would respond to a situation with how my friend who uses a wheelchair responds, and I say to him, "Lighten up!" A much better response would be for me to address the environment to soften it, to help it become more sensitive to devalued, wounded people. It would also be good to encourage the person experiencing the disability.
I think my words to my friend were encouraging to him. He was quiet for a minute after I told him how I see him, what I was thinking as I counseled him. But sentiments like, "I am not speaking to you as a disabled person or as a disabled Christian, I am speaking to you as a Christian" need to be repeated sufficiently often that both the person with the disability and I myself will come to believe and practice that sentiment.


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