I like Jane Austin, there I’ve said it, get all your ridicule out of the way now. Oh, you don’t have any. I really like Jane Austin, she was an author ahead of her time. Humorous, clever, insightful and radical. She was able to put over ideas about gender inequality in a way that even men at the time found acceptable, didn’t they? Well they should have done. She has a timeless quality and her books have been re imagined in so many ways.
Sense and sensibility is one of my favourites, along with Pride and Prejudice. In Sense and Sensibility Jane contrasts a sensible sister with an overly emotionally sensitive one. It can appear at first reading that the sensible sister, Elinor, is the heroine the one we are to see as right. Marianne, the overly sensitive one, seems so flighty and over emotional that it’s hard to emphasise with her. But, as in real life both sisters are on a journey. Marianne needs to gain more sense, but Elinor needs to get more in touch with her emotions.
Why on earth would I quote from that book? What relevance is there to me or you? I have been reading a lot of posts on disability ‘wheelie’ sites about comments non wheelies make to my fellow ‘wheelies’. I have also had a lot of, well let’s say ‘insensitive’ comments made to me. It got me thinking, ‘how do we respond to ignorance and insensitivity?’
It seems to me we can often be like one or other of the Dashwood sisters, Elinor or Marianne. Either too sensible or too emotional in our response. The sensible being to ignore the person being insensitive. The emotional being to get angry and upset, then shout or be rude back. Then it struck me maybe a better way forward would be somewhere between these extremes. Emotions are going to hit us, how can they not. If someone says something stupid to us. Accuses us of malingering or acts as a disability police, or maybe just pushes us unasked in our wheelchair. But we don’t have to respond to that feeling. We can draw on our logical, sensible side to realise that it is ignorance that causes such comments. How can people understand what they haven’t experienced. How can we blame people for believing the lies in the media. We need to help people understand, teach, explain, use our emotional response to drive us into a passionate defence of disabled people and our sensible side to prevent ourselves just ranting and getting angry. The world needs to gain insight into disability; not gain more reasons to shy away from disabled people.
The point of this post is a plea to my fellow wheelies. When you meet ignorance, pause, count to ten and think before responding. I know it’s tempting to respond like for like. To meet ignorance with ignorance. It can feel good to have a great cutting remark in response to an idiotic remark. But; if we are to change the hearts and minds of those around us, it can only be done through insight and knowledge. Communication is the key. People gain knowledge and understanding partly through hearing, partly through seeing and partly through experience. Do your part to help them understand.
If you are not disabled or limited and reading this then my plea to you is stop and look, listen, think. Try to put yourself in a wheelchair, buggy, hospital bed. How would you feel, day after day, limited, and frustrated. How would you feel when your moves and choices are so closely monitored and others feel the right to judge you and test you at every turn. Don’t jump to conclusions.
Communication and understanding will change things. Let’s not give in to hate or anger. Let’s take hold of our sensibility (emotional response) and use our sense to make an informed response to what happens around us. That applies to both disabled and able bodied alike.
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