honesty

You can’t fight evil with bullshit

Donald Trump has spent years telling outrageous lies. He’s continued to do so since assuming office, even lying about obviously verifiable things like what he’s tweeted about or the size of his inauguration crowd.

He is attacking the idea that truth matters, and trying to make people give up on telling the difference between the truth and a lie. This is dangerously disoriented.

In order to stay oriented, we need to care what’s true. This is easier said than done. In the short term, bullshit is often much more politically convenient than the truth. In the long term, if we create a world in which the truth doesn’t matter, we will end up defenseless. 

We need to keep in mind that being on the right side doesn’t make everything someone might say true. Good people can tell lies. Good people can get things wrong. Their goodness doesn’t make the lie true. 

Being marginalized doesn’t mean that someone always knows what they’re talking about. Being oppressed doesn’t make people infallible; being wrong doesn’t make someone privileged. 

Similarly, not every rumor about a bad person is accurate. Lies told about a bad person are still lies. (And not everyone who has a bad reputation is actually a bad person.)

Be careful about spreading rumors. Learn to recognize fake news, and avoid spreading it. If something doesn’t sound true to you, ask for citations or investigate. Everyone can be wrong, and you don’t have to believe anyone without being persuaded that they are right. Evidence matters, arguments matter. (And being a good person isn’t a substitute for either.)

You can’t fight evil with bullshit. In order to fight evil, we have to care what’s true. 

"Have fun" should not be a rule

A lot of summer camps, youth groups, and other activities have a “have fun” rule.

The implied message is usually: This is a fun place. If you’re not having fun, you’re doing something wrong. Fix your attitude and have fun doing the fun activities.

Sometimes “have fun” rules are explicit. Sometimes they’re more implicit, and come in forms like: making people sing a song every day about how much they love camp, announcements about “we’re all having so much fun!”, or whatever else.

The problem with this is: nothing is fun for everyone. People have the right to feel how they feel about things. It’s really degrading to tell an unhappy person that they should just feel some other way.

“Have fun” rules are especially problematic for many disabled people.

Because — most programs are not fully accessible, even when they think they are. Most of us expect to encounter activities that are inaccessible in ways that make participation impossible — or that make them no fun.

And often, initially fun activities are ruined when someone treats you in a degrading way or says something awful about disability.

Being left out when everyone else is having fun is bad enough. When there’s a “have fun” rule, it’s even worse. Not only are you hurt by the exclusion, you’re told that you’re violating the rules by being hurt and unhappy.

“Have fun” rules make it really hard to solve these problems, because they make it risky to admit that you’re not having a good time.

“Have fun” rules make problems harder to solve, even when the problem has a straightforward solution. All the more so when the problem is complicated. (Or only has a partial solution.)

“Have fun” rules actually make things a lot less fun.

We're just like everyone else — and we're also different

In some ways, people with disabilities are just like everyone else. In some ways, we are very different. Both sides of that matter. Bad things happen when either is overlooked.

We are different from everyone else in that our bodies work differently. Most people have bodies that can do certain things. Our bodies can’t do all of the things that most other people can do. That matters. Being blind means something. Being d/Deaf means something. Having an intellectual disability means something. Being autistic means something. Having a mobility disability means something. Fatigue means something. Depression means something. The way we move, communicate, think, and perceive the world matters. Thinking about the differences created by our disabilities allows us to think about how to live with them — and live well with them. These differences do not need to be cause for alarm — we’re just people, and we’re part of the world, just like everyone else.

We are just like everyone else in that we are human beings. Our bodies are important. We experience pleasure. We have feelings. When people hurt us, we feel it, and it matters. Injustices against us are important, and we have the right to resist. We learn for our whole lives. If we survive to the age of adulthood, we become adults. When we wrong people, it matters. We are able to love. We can reciprocate relationships, consideration, and efforts. And any number of other things. Basically, we are people.

We are different from nondisabled people in that we can’t assume that we will be treated as equals in any context. Few, if any, spaces are designed with the assumption that we will be present, or that our presence is important. A school with a wonderful reputation for supportive friendliness may be aggressively, or subtly, hostile to students with disabilities. A movie theater may not bother to unlock the accessible doors, or may not have accessible doors at all. Airline policies may make travel impossible. People who say they are our friends may see us as charity projects, possibly with the encouragement of teachers or therapists. Or any number of other things. The daily toll of unmet access needs adds up, especially when the barriers are unnecessary, especially when they could be easily removed if anyone cared to do so.

We often can’t even assume that our humanity will be recognized.  In our culture, we are surrounded by people who think that disability makes us less than human — sometimes even within disability community. Sometimes it’s subtle, and sometimes it’s blatant. Many of us grew up subjected to therapy that would have raised outcry if it had been done to a typically developing child. Any number of books and movies raise the question of whether death is better than disability. 

Conversations about disabled people often do not include us, and often do not even recognize that we have perspectives of our own. When disabled people are murdered by caregivers, the murderers often get more sympathy than the victims. Ethicists with tenure debate whether disabled people ought to be allowed to be born, whether medical treatment for people with disabilities is a good use of resources, and whether we’re really people after all. And so on. The dehumanization adds up, too.  Even when we are treated well, we live with the knowledge that people just like us are not. 

We are fully human, and it is wrong to treat us as subhuman. In that sense, and many others, we are just like everyone else. We are also different. We are physically and cognitively different from other people, and those differences are important. We are also treated very differently from others, and that experience is important too. All of these things shape who we are, and the skills we need to live well. Glossing over disability does not serve us. We can get a lot further if we are matter of fact about all of this, and face these realities honestly. 

Tl;dr People with disabilities are just like everyone else in some ways. We are different from everyone else in some ways. We are the same in that we are people. We are different in that our bodies work differently — and in that others treat us as subhuman. All of these things matter.

Open letter to disability professionals

thetallestofhobbits:

realsocialskills:

Dear disability professionals,

I’m not sure why, but I keep encountering disability professionals who try to deny that disability exists, or to downplay its importance.

It’s so extreme that disability professionals often try to convince people with disabilities that we are just like everybody else. Even when our differences are the reason that you have a job.

We are not just like everyone else. We are alike in that we are all human, with the same basic needs and capacities that go along with humanity. We are also different, in that we have disabilities and most people do not.

Disability exists. Disability is important. People with disabilities are different from most people people in ways that matter. And we need those differences to be speakable.

Our bodies are different. We can’t make this go away by smiling, being brave, and trying hard.

The differences in our bodies matter. Most people can do things that are physically impossible for us. Most people can do some things easily that are excruciatingly difficult for us. The specifics of which things these are depend on the person and the disability. They always exist. That’s what disability means, it means having a different kind of body, a body that can’t do certain kinds of things easily or at all.

For everyone, with and without disabilities, understanding the limits of what our bodies can do is a key life skill. Everyone’s safety depends on understanding that they do not have wings, and that they can’t fly. My safety also depends on understanding that I have impaired vision, motor coordination, and executive functioning. Understanding these things means I have chosen not to drive, and that I have found adaptive strategies that enable me to cook safely.

From my perspective, the fact that I don’t concentrate hard and try to drive isn’t so different from the fact that I don’t flap my wings and try to fly. All I’m doing is acknowledging physical reality, and making choices that fit with my understanding of reality. Some of the physical limitations on what my body can do are the normal limits that apply to all human bodies. Other physical limitations come from my disability. They’re all just physical facts, they’re all just things I need to take into account when I make decisions. 

But as a person with a disability, I learned young that only some limitations are ok to talk about. If I say “I can’t fly”, no one contradicts me. If I say “I can’t catch”, people say “just keep trying”. Both are physically impossible for me. Trying hard will not make either possible. Neither will being brave, smiling, or believing in myself.

For some reason, many disability professionals seem to believe that honesty about our limitations will somehow destroy our self esteem. Actually, the opposite is the case. They want us to believe that if we just smile and keep trying, we can do anything that we put our minds to. But it’s a lie, and we get hurt badly when we believe it.

When professionals refuse to accept our limitations, they force us to attempt impossible tasks over and over. There is nothing positive about this experience. We try and fail, and we watch others our age succeed at the same tasks. If we believe that we can do whatever we put our minds to, then we feel like it’s our fault for not trying hard enough.

It hurts when people yell at us for failing, and it hurts when people plaster on smiles and urge us to smile and keep trying. “Come on, you can do it!” doesn’t sound like encouragement when you know that you will fail. It feels like being told that you’re somehow screwing up on purpose, and that if you would just decide to be a better person, you’d suddenly be about to do it. This kind of thing can go on for years, and it leaves scars. We often come to feel like we are unworthy people, and that there’s something deeply flawed about who we are. 

It’s very, very important that people with disabilities understand that we are disabled. We need to know that our bodies are different, and that some things that are possible for most other people aren’t possible for us. We can’t stop being disabled through an act of will. Our bodies limit us. That is not a moral failing. It’s just a fact of physical reality. And it needs to be speakable.

Our bodies and our disabilities are nothing to be ashamed of.  We don’t have to be different to be good enough. We don’t have to be nondisabled to do things that matter. We don’t have to do impossible things to be worthy of love and respect. We’re people, and who we are is ok.

And for professionals - please understand that when you refuse to acknowledge disability, you are teaching people with disabilities to be ashamed of themselves. This is probably not your intention, but it’s an inevitable consequence of making disability unspeakable.

It is much better to tell the truth. It is much better to support us in understanding who we really are, than to push us to believe in an impossible dream. I could dream of flying or playing baseball, but it wouldn’t get me anywhere. By living in the real world and working with the body I actually have, I can do things that matter. And so can all of your clients. There is no need for silence, evasion, or shame. Disability is important, and it’s much easier to live with when we can face it honestly.

thetallestofhobbits said:

All of this is why I try really hard to be straightforward with my students. I know how it feels to hear the Try for Try’s Sake speech, and I hated it.

When my kids say, “I can’t do this” or, “I suck at this,” I try to say, “I can help you do it ” or, “Let’s see if we can use what you’ve done.”

Disability professionals police language because the narrative is that if a disabled kid gets into the habit of thinking “negatively” about their level of ability related to a particular skill or subject, they will lose the motivation to attempt it, and because accessible education does not keep pace with the attitudes of disability communities about what we as members believe is reasonable about supporting full and equal access to education, we are often forced to police attitudes because we as professionals can’t be seen to “enable” a disabled person’s “failure” by not pushing them to try.

In no way do I mean to imply that this attitude is healthy or positive. It is not. But, until the narrative about supporting disabled people changes to more accurately reflect the attitudes of actual disabled people instead of abled people who think they speak for us, we’re stuck with this.

“I don’t want him to feel different”

I’ve encountered a lot of parents and professionals who are reluctant to talk to disabled children about their disabilities.

People often believe that children with disabilities are innocent, and that they can protect their innocence with silence. They express concerns along the lines of “I don’t want him to think something is wrong with him,” or “I don’t want her to feel different,” or “I don’t want them to feel bad about themself.”

You can’t protect disabled kids this way. They know that they are different, and they know that this difference is perceived negatively.

Some examples of how kids figure out that they are different:

  • Kids watch what other kids do.
  • Typically developing younger siblings develop skills that they still haven’t mastered and may never master. They notice. They also notice how their parents react to this.
  • Kids with disabilities often see other kids their age doing something that looks fun, try to join in, and find that they can’t keep up. They notice, and they have feelings about this.
  • They also notice when other kids think they’re weird or boring and avoid them.
  • If they go to a special education program, they notice that other kids don’t take the short bus to school (and they hear what other kids say about the short bus, or they see it in their body language.)
  • They also notice that their school is really different from schools on TV and in stories.
  • All the kids their age on TV and in stories can do things that they can’t do. They notice.
  • Disabled kids often struggle to understand something that’s clear to everyone else in the room. They notice that this happens a lot.
  • Kids with disabilities get called the r-word, or the moral equivalent. 
  • Adults expect them to do things that they can’t on a regular basis. Other kids their age can. Adults are disappointed or angry. They notice.
  • Kids notice when they have to go to therapy and other kids don’t.
  • Kids notice when doctors hold them down for painful procedures while they struggle and cry. They notice that this doesn’t happen to kids in stories and that it’s not in any of the books about being a kid.
  • They notice that they have a lot of tests and that they’re talked to in ways that other kids aren’t.
  • They are often required to follow rules that other kids don’t have to follow. They notice that, too.
  • Parents talk about how tired, scared, and overwhelmed they are by their child’s needs or navigating the systems. Kids overhear. 
  • Many kids also eventually overhear the name of their condition and google it. 
  • And any number of other things.

Your silence doesn’t protect them from any of these experiences; it just isolates them. Kids are already bearing the pain of disability and of other people’s reactions to their disability. If no one will talk to them about it, they are also very, very alone. You can’t protect their innocence; you can break the silence that isolates them.

An opinion is still an opinion if you put a question mark at the end

Therapists usually see themselves as facilitators rather than advice-givers or problem-solvers. They generally believe things like:

  • “We never tell people what to do”
  • “We create space to support them through figuring it out.”
  • “We raise questions.”
  • “We don’t give advice, we let them come up with solutions.”

Thing is: “raising questions” in practice amounts to expressing a lot of opinions. An opinion is still an opinion when it is phrased as a question. It’s *especially* still an opinion when it is phrased as a series of leading questions and pregnant pauses.

It matters what therapists of any kind believe about their clients; they can’t help very much without understanding what’s going on. That’s a reason why psychologists and other types of therapists spend years in school learning psychological theories and practical methods. One of the major ways in which therapists are sometimes able to help people is by having well-informed opinions and understanding things that others don’t.

It’s ok for therapists to have opinions — but they need to be well-informed, and they need to be able to modify them in response to new information. (Eg: Sometimes the patient knows something you don’t, sometimes there’s social or cultural context that changes the meaning, etc.)

I think that it is much easier to have a worthwhile opinion if you can admit to yourself and others that you have opinions and that your opinions affect other people.

tl;dr Therapists tend to express their opinions to clients phrased as a series of questions. They think that this means they’re not expressing an opinion, but rather just asking and creating space for the client to think. It matters that this is not true. Therapists have opinions (and should have opinions), and being honest about that makes it much easier to learn new things and make your opinions needed. An opinion is still an opinion if you put a question mark at the end.

Honesty

When you’re teaching vulnerable kids social skills, it’s important to tell the truth.

They need skills for living in the world as it is, not as you would like it to be.

For instance: If you teach them to walk away from bullies, you have to tell them that sometimes bullies will follow them.

If you teach them to tell an adult, you have to teach them that sometimes the adult won’t care, or will take the bully’s side, or will tell them to stop tattling.

If you teach them to say “That hurts my feelings!”, you have to teach them that some bullies will laugh at them.

If you don’t teach kids that, when those things happen, they will think it is their fault. Or they will think that you don’t care. Either way, they’re not likely to be able to come to you for further support.

It’s much better to admit that your answers are imperfect. It’s much better to admit when you don’t know how to help. It’s much better if you can listen.

Sometimes the best thing you can say is “I’m sorry that people are being so mean to you. Do you want to talk about it?" 

kyraneko:

realsocialskills:

angelrat:

Nonviolent Communication can hurt people

foxship:

agent-hardass:

realsocialskills:

People who struggle interpersonally, who seem unhappy, or who get into a lot of conflicts are often advised to adopt the approach of Nonviolent Communication.

This is often not a good idea. Nonviolent Communication is an approach…

angelrat said:

It’s also not much help if you’re being bullied. It’s like the “stop it, I don’t like it” technique that children are advised to use … the obvious response from the bully is “good, objective attained, I’ll do that again now I know you don’t like it”. I have never seen the sense in “stop it, I don’t like it” as the entire point of the bullying behaviour is to do something the other person does not like.

realsocialskills said:

Yes, exactly. I’ve been trying to write some posts for ages about why it’s wrong to teach kids strategies like that. It’s - it’s not ok to make yourself feel better about the world by teaching vulnerable people things you wish were true. They need to know how things actually work so that they can protect themselves rather than walking into greater danger.

kyraneko said:

Thank you. Openly and honestly telling kids that bullies exist and the official authorities are rarely much good at stopping them (and sometimes are bullies themselves), and then teaching them how bullies function, and then letting the kids use their own understanding of their situations to decide what to do, would work so much better than all these adultsplaining how-to’s that pretend bullies are an occasional bother with no official support that are only bullying you because you haven’t really communicated to them that it’s hurtful to you …

You make kids stronger and more resiliant to bullying by telling them that they matter with actions as well as words. You teach them that they deserve better than to be bullied by interfering with the bullying of them that you witness, and believing them about the bullying you don’t witness, and giving them whatever tools they need to defend themselves when you’re not around to do it for them.

Authorities often refrain from interfering with bullying because “they’ve got to learn to defend themselves,” but no one tells an airplane that since it has wings, it doesn’t need a runway because “you’ve got to learn to fly on your own.” And it only gets worse when they engage in such distortion of reality to make dealing with bullies sound like such an easy thing. The victim goes out with the wrong information, fails, and then gets chided for hir lack of success at such an “easy” task, while the authority figure goes on blissfully believing the world is that simple and that the problem will be fixed once her wayward charge “gets it” and makes the bully stop by “standing up for hirself” in the approved nonviolent fashion, which will totally work once it gets around to happening. No hurry.

Fuck that. Get the kid an understanding of how bullies work and how the rest of the world works, sparing no illusion about teachers who make excuses to let bullies bully or punish their victims instead, and then let the kid decide what’s the best course of action to take.

My workplace (a theatre) is really inaccessible to people with physical disabilities. I’ve pointed it out to the manager, who isn’t interested in fixing the problems. When people with physical disabilities come into the building, the best thing I know how to do is let them know ahead of time what parts of the building they won’t be able to access (bathrooms, all but the last rows of the auditorium, etc.) It doesn’t feel like enough. Could you talk about some other useful ways to help?

I think there’s probably not much you have the power to do as far as fixing it. Depending on where you’re situated, you might be able to tell the owner, or report it to a local organization that deals with accessibility issues. But, it’s very likely that you won’t be able to fix things that way.

Assuming that you won’t be able to fix it, here are some things you can do:

  • When people call and ask about accessibility issues, be honest
  • And specific. Listen to the questions people ask, and answer them honestly.
  • Sometimes you won’t know the answers. When you don’t know, say that you don’t know.
  • If it’s something you can check, offer to check.
  • If people are angry, don’t try to defuse their anger. Don’t tell them it’s not your fault. It’s not their job to make your feel better about the state of accessibility. They have a right to be angry,
  • Maybe ask if they want to talk to the manager? They *might* be more interested in the problem if customers complain.
  • Find out if there’s an accessible theater nearby. If people call and ask if your theater is accessible in a way yours isn’t, tell them “Unfortunately not, but <other place> is.”
  • Familiarize yourself with access issues other than wheelchair access, too. Does your workplace offer captions? Descriptive audio? Sensory-friendly screenings? For which films?
  • If not, which theaters do?

Anyone else want to weigh in? People with access needs, what would you want someone to do in this situation? People who’ve been in this situation, did you figure out anything good to do?