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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

You decide who I am

A student of mine at Cal Baptist, Melinda, stopped by tonight during office hours. We had an interesting discussion about issues related to the class, but in the midst of talking she made a very interesting point. Basically people are who they are perceived to be. So, you approach a young woman and just see her as an attractive woman. I approach the same woman and see her as my daughter. You project a person who is attractive, but strange to you. I project a person who is as important to me as just about anyone else in my life. She is an attractive stranger to you. She is my daughter to me.

A man approaches you who has down syndrome. Perhaps he is not even much of a person to you, or someone who has a poor quality of life, or someone even to be feared. To me he is Ryan, my friend. I am aware of his disability in the same manner he is aware of my height (I'm 6'7"). His down syndrome doesn't add or detract from our friendship and neither does my height.

People become what they are projected to be by their environment. Melinda told me of a group of students she knew who were put in a program basically for trouble makers. Those around them then perceived them as such, as did they of themselves. They now saw themselves as trouble makers and lived up to the part.

I am reminded of the story (might be apocryphal) about the teachers who were given their students locker numbers and told the numbers were the students IQ scores. Students then proceeded to achieve on the basis of their locker number.

If I invite people with disabilties into my church, their perception of themselves will change. They will see themselves as worthy of friendship, wanted, valued. As a church member I also will learn to see them as worthy of friendship, as wanted and as valued. Exclusion, or absence of those people projects the image of unimportance, irrelevance, other, among other things. No wonder parents of children attending Christian schools will fight children with disabilties being in their Christian school. What have they learned to project on people with disabilities? How has the Church taught them to percieve persons with disabilities?

It goes to comments I made in an earlier entry to this blog. Others can be a detriment or a value added. It has more to do with me, with my perceptions, with my projections than it has to to with anothers characteristics. I know people who love particular people with specific characteristics and others who dislike those same people. What is different? The object of the perceptions is the same. What those making the perceptions of other bring to the interaction is what is different. That is why it is so important to change churches, to make them more open. As we do that, perceptions will change so that the same man who was once ostracised is now accepted because the environment changed.



Anonymous said...

You provoke my thinking once again. The basic reality Melinda presented is that "perception is reality." That despite my intentions, the way I am perceived by my audience is exactly what I am to them. Attractive person, son or daughter, complete jerk or saint; I am, to my audience what they see me to be.

I know Ryan, and I know he doesn't believe he has a "poor quality of life." I don't think he does either. I hope when I see him again he will remember me as a friend.

Currently, I am spending a great deal of time and energy thinking about how children with special needs are best served by public education. Current thinking seems to be in the direction of total inclusion and the creation of classrooms that are ever increasingly diverse. It is clear to me that such ideas work to the detriment of all. The "higher" learners are restrained and the "lower" absolutely perceive that they are different and their presence in the classroom highlights their differentness.

Are children really better served by being with everyome else; or does it make more sense to place our cxhildren within groups that are best able to meet their needs, just as they are.

I certainly think contact between all groups is essiential--that kind of contact happens in the school I work in, The SDC kids I work with are valued by the everyone at the school.

I guess I don't understand why this arrangement works at school (though many think it should be eliminated) and what the church should be doing. We should welcome all with open arms and loving hearts, no doubt.

But what next? Some churches may be to small to address the spirtual needs of individuals with physical or cognitive disability by creating special programs for them. Other churches are large enough that they have no excuse for this kind of neglect I think we need to welcome and seek out persons affected by disability. When enough are present in your church the Lord will provide for them and call some one to meet their needs.

I believe that leaders often make of their followers what their expectations lead them to. I read about a study where teachers were told that randomly selected students should show dramatic improvements this term. They did! What if the only expectations we had of those we lead and teach was that they might receive all the love and grace God has to give them. That is alot of love and grace. I'll take it.

Anonymous said...

To be honest i had not thought much about where are preceptions of ourselves or others came from. At first i did not agree with the comment made by Melinda that "people are who they are precieved to be." When i had finished reading I realised that enviornments and my perceptions change how a person is precieved.

I do agreee with the comments made about enviornments affecting actions or attitudes. When we are surrounded by negative people we are more likely to be negative. But i don't necesarally agree with the comments made that churches or christian schools will fight not to have the disabled attend. I went to a christian school and altough we did not have any severlly disabled, I don't feel that they were not welcome. In my opinion the church is not turning the disabled away or looking down on them, they are just not activelly seaking them.

I do feel that perceptions of the disabled would change and therefore create beter enviornments if they were in the churches. But I also feel that it is like any other ministry and involves the church seeking out the disabled. Most churches today are not doing a great job of reaching those in our home towns, but focus more on those far away. In my opinion this is one reson the disabled are not in the churches.

I don not want to sound like i don't have a heart for these people. I plane to teach the disabled. I am simply giving my opinion on why the disabled are not in the churches. I do believe that the church could do a better job of changing the worlds perspectives on the disabled, and create better inviornemts for them.

Jeff McNair said...

You are right that churches do not actively seek to bring persons with disabilities in the way they should. Unfortunately, however, they also turn people away. Christian schools are particularly notorious for serving the intelligent, nondisabled in the family but not the one with challenges. I wish you were right, but I have to disagree.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all of what was said in this post but I want to add something that no one has mentioned. It is a bit embarrassing, perhaps taboo for this discussion, but it is something that I am dealing with as part of my term paper for EDU 541.

I do not think that people with cognitive disabilities generally believe that they have low qualities of life. However, I can't help viewing new experiences through the lens of my own past experiences. Because I know how their life can be different, I feel pity for them. Should I feel pity? Honestly, I just wish that they had everything available to them that the rest of us do.

In my case, I have interviewed a student at the high school where I work. This student had a traumatic brain injury four years ago. Before the injury, he was a popular boy at school, with plenty of friends and girlfriends. He was an eagle scout aw well. But because the injury has severely limited his movement and his speech, he has been ostracized from all of his old friends and he cannot participate in the activities he used to. In his case, he knows how life can be different. He has experienced things that he knows he will never experience again. For these reasons I can't help but feel sorry for him, and it makes me uncomfortable.

I still talk to the student every now and then (a friend of mine is his SDC teacher) and I am beginning to get less uncomfortable. Still, the pity I feel for him does not diminish. Maybe the connotations of the word "pity" make it unsuitable to describe how I feel. Sympathy may be a better word. Nevertheless, it is something I find hard to overcome.

I think the key to overcoming it lies in experience. Like I said, the more I interact with him, the better I feel. As you have mentioned in previous posts and in class, interaction with people with cognitive disabilities helps people "get over" stigmas and the kinds of problems that I have talked about. Once people "get over" the disability, I think that the person can move on to treating the disabled person as they would treat anyone else.

Anonymous said...

This is a true story.
I was attending a local community college. I was sitting in the quad area by myself reading a book and enjoying the beautiful sunny day. When I looked up, there was my college psychology professor. I smiled and said hello and didn’t think much of the incident until I got into my psychology class with that professor. The professor started his talk by pointing out that socializing is very important. Furthermore, he pointed out as an example that he observed a person sitting alone in the quad looking truly anti-social and uninviting because this person was engrossed in her book. Was he right, was I being anti-social? Was his perception of me right? Think about it. We make judgments every day and act upon to judgments or observations.

To answer the question I just asked the reader of this article is – no, I was not being anti-social. I was simple enjoying a very good book that was assigned to us in our English class. What this professor did not know is that I had worked all night, taken my children to their respective schools and driven straight to the college where I was taking 3 classes and would leave to pick up my children from their respective schools, take them home, help them with homework, talk about their day, get them ready for bed and get about 3 hours of sleep. That 30 minutes that I took for myself was the only time in the day I had to unwind and have “me” time but that professor’s perspective, I was being anti-social.

I tell this story for this reason, be careful about judging those who just never considered inviting a disabled person to join the church because they just never thought about it verses someone who truly does not want to have a disabled person join the church. There is a big difference between the two perspectives.