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

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Disability ministry and social skills

In the last month, I have had the opportunity to travel to two places which are quite different when it comes to social skills. In France, I was at times greeted with a kiss on the cheek. In China, I learned a new meaning of "personal space" in that people will get very close to each other, even strangers. It occurred to me, if I kissed a man in China on the cheek, or stood as close to someone in France as people did in China, I would be considered quite strange because of the social customs of each place. There is nothing at all wrong with the social customs in either of these places. If I were to stand close or kiss on the cheek, I am not doing anything wrong...from a moral perspective. However, because of social traditions, I would be very wrong in either place.

Can we make this connection with those with disabilities who do not understand social skills? They are like the French person who kisses the Chinese person on the cheek, or the Chinese person who stand too close to the French person. They have done nothing wrong. They have only carried their tradition of social behavior to a place where the understanding of social behavior is different. As soon as we understand that people are from different places, we will likely forgive the misunderstanding and even enjoy or embrace it. When we go to those places, one of the things we enjoy are the differences in culture we experience. Are we willing to do the same for people who are not from a different culture, but just don't understand the social skill demands of the place where they are?

Social skills are too often the reason why person are excluded or rejected. As stated elsewhere in this blog, we hold to our traditions and reject the command of God to love our neighbor (see this posting on Disability Ministry and Traditions). How refreshing it would be if we were more accepting of others and their differences, particularly those which are simply social skill differences. May God help us to not let small things like social skills get in the way of loving our neighbors.



DJ said...

This is an amazing post. You are absolutely correct Dr. McNair, many times people are rejected and treated like an outcast because of behaviors. The behaviors most times are considered weird, annoying, or just misunderstood. However, these behaviors can be due to a lack of social skills for a particular environment. I wish much of the world could make this connection and understand it’s not the person (who your disdain is for), it’s the lack of social skills needed to be accepted by this particular group.
As humans, we all need to be more cognitive and sensitive of this behavior when dealing with others. For example, throughout my lifetime, I have heard many people not be accepting of others because they felt as if they were “different”. Warranted this day and age it is important to pay close attention to behaviors of people within your immediate surroundings. However, if someone seems to be “different” from your “normal” it’s worth being a little empathetic and working to understand and get to know the person better. This can make the world a happier place. I thank you for enlightening myself and the world on this issue via your thread.
Dawn J.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading this post. I agree with everything you stated. I think that it mostly happens during younger ages, when children do not understand others feelings quite yet. But it does happen in adult hood as well, and there is no excuse for that. It hurts me to see people outcasted or labeled as weird or awkward. We have to take into consideration that they are who they are and there is nothing wrong with that. Once we transform into a more accepting society, the community will become united.
I think that the way that you compared it to that of understanding a new culture was perfect. Everyone is always so interested and open minded when it comes to visiting and learning about new countries and their traditions. However when it comes to people and the way that they communicate, or walk, all of a sudden we cant take a second to learn about them and how they do things. When the world learns to approach disabled people in the right way, we will be making a huge step forward. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Dr. McNair for sharing this with us. I can completely agree with you. I can definitely say that we are all very different. Some people demonstrate their expressions through physical touch, whereas others do not. Some people accept it, whereas others consider it strange. Social traditions do in fact have a lot to do with it. When we are out traveling through a different county we automatically notice how everything is different and we in a way respect it. I do agree with you though, social skills are often the reason why some people are excluded and that is not okay. Why are we able to understand someone’s culture but not someone as a person, a human being? It simply is not okay, and that is something that we must work on in general. The way in which we think is simply not okay.

The Mephibosheth Project said...

I love this post! I think it is wonderful to frame difference as something that is cultural. This is far more empowering for individuals who feel excluded.

Tiffany deCordova said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, Dr. McNair. It is so interesting to see first hand how cultural norms differ between one another. I liked how you applied this to the disabled, as that is something that I had never connected before. Every society is different due to the social norms within it, then within each society there are individuals and every individual differs from one another. Even those individuals can have disabilities and be more 'different' than the rest of society. The act of speaking up close or physical touch can be offensive to others if it is not performed in the rightful sense or area. If we go out and travel, a good thing for us to maybe do is research cultural norms so we do not offend anyone.

Emily Neal said...

Thank you for sharing your insight, Dr. McNair. I really enjoyed this post and how you relate different cultures to social skills. I have been to many places around the world and find it fascinating to know what is and what is not culturally appropriate in different countries. I enjoy learning from people's cultures, versus pushing my "Egotistical American" mindset onto them. We don't go into countries to "fix" them, we go to learn and expand our mindset and view on the world. I think we have to do the same with our friends with disabilities. Invite them into our "culture" and teach them the things that work and are culturally acceptable, while also learning from their way of loving and being with people. Sometimes, people just do not know what is normal and abnormal in cultures and that is where grace and a heart to inform comes into play. In that togetherness, we will grow and understand each other in new ways. When you know someone better, you love them and can serve them better. I think that is what Jesus calls us into. He wants us to know each other better and learn from one another, so we can love each other deeper and build relationships with people who are not exactly the same as us.

Anonymous said...

Dr. McNair, this was such an insightful post! I have often thought about the concept of social skills in relation to people from different cultural backgrounds. As someone with social anxiety, I used to become very uncomfortable in public spaces if someone stood too close to me (e.g. Disneyland or the mall). I would assume that the person that was standing close did not care about my personal space or was being rude and disrespectful. It was not until years later that I realized that ideas regarding personal space varied by culture. Once I understood this, I learned to navigate public spaces better and to be more considerate of other people's differences. I regret that I seldom considered how certain situations involving social skills might also affect people with disabilities. Similar to my previous assumptions regarding people that stand too close, I too believe that many non-disabled people hold disable people to the same monolithic standards as the general population. Many people do not consider people with disabilities as individuals and do not care to consider that they may not understand certain cues that an average person would. They view this difference in social skills as a flaw in parenting or the education system's failure to "properly teach" people with disabilities how to "be normal." Thus, I feel that it is important for non-disabled people to dismiss the idea that the world centers around them. We must, not only, become knowledgeable about the world and the people around us, but we also must be more considerate and accepting of people that respond to the world in unique/different ways.