Inspiration and othering

I was pretty sure I had written about this before, but despite my best searching, I cannot find the post anywhere, so I guess I'm going to have to start from scratch.

Have you heard of the term "Inspiration Porn"? If you haven't, I encourage you to click on the link, and read the article it takes you to before moving on. It is a key idea that you need to be familiar with first.

Now, I will be the first to admit, that I have probably been guilty of this in the past. I didn't know it was a thing. For that matter, I didn't really know many people with a disability, and of those I had a passing acquaintance with, I probably only had ever really talked with one of them. Disability awareness was way outside my everyday life, and I will admit I didn't think all that much about it. Well, except to be glad that my children were all healthy and it wasn't something I was forced to deal with. I will also readily admit that the whole thing made me extremely uncomfortable. I'm not coming off very well here, am I? I have a sneaking suspicion that I am not the only one with this type of experience and attitude. The truth is, when you have this mindset and experience, people with disabilities are "other" whether you are comfortable admitting that or not.

And then God gave me a chance to change in the form of my children.

I didn't even really know I had to change, but looking back, I really did. Parenting my children has changed how I view the world in a very significant way. I am learning (because I am still very much a work in progress), that we should always see the person first. It's not political correctness, it is a desire to honor the humanity in every person around us. If I have learned one thing in parenting my children, their special needs are just an extremely small part of who they are.

So what's the problem with inspiration porn? It's that it focuses solely on someone's disabilities without seeing them an as entire person first. Is it okay to be inspired by someone? Of course it is. I can be inspired by a wide range of people... a friend's creativity, another friend's wisdom, someone's ability to make conversation with other people with seemingly little effort. These friends' gifts make me want to up my game in similar areas. But these friends' gifts do not inspire me because I feel they are less than me in some way, and yet they can do these things, and what's my deal that I cannot get off my duff and do them as well. The less run-on sentence version of that is I feel inspired to do something because if this poor person can manage X, then surely I could manage Y. It's actually not much different than feeling better about yourself after having visited a circus sideshow, because at least you don't have all those weird things going on. It's just couched in different terms because it makes people feel better about what they are doing. Is it really beneficial or kind or helpful to vote for someone, be inspired by someone, to take a picture with someone just because they have a disability? Isn't that kind of making it all about you, and what makes you look like a better person?

There is also a slightly different adoption twist to all this as well. Adoptive parents of children with disabilities also have a tendency to become "inspirations". I know I am not the only one to bristle at this. I know for certain I have written about this before, because it is such a pet peeve of mine. Here's the short answer as to why it is so gosh darn annoying: Every time someone tells me how wonderful I am for raising this child (or children), all it does is confirm that this child (or children) is not quite up to snuff... not as valuable... less worthy... must be difficult to love. Why else would I be so wonderful to do what millions of other parents do every day, that is, raise my children? Once again, the person with a disability is othered, because "regular" children's parents don't get special plaudits, even though raising any child can be exhausting and hard at times.

I ask everyone to be honest with themselves. I know it's hard. I've been there... sometimes I'm still there. But instead think...

How much better it would be to just decide to get to know someone because you want to get to know them; to discover what that other person has to offer you. Focus on the person first. Chances are, you will still be inspired by that person, but because of some gift or talent or personality quirk that has nothing to do with their disability at all.

How much better it would be if we put the needs of others first; really and truly cared about them and wanted their lives to be as navigable as possible. Wouldn't we go out of way to make sure that people who needed to use wheelchairs could actually get around? Wouldn't we go out of our way to do things in such a way that doesn't make life harder for people? Wouldn't we want the same thing?

This is what I hope for my children and others who navigate life with a disability. I hope for people to be in their lives that enjoy them and appreciate them for who they are first... not because they feel sorry for them, or are inspired by what they perceive they have overcome. I hope for a whole community of people who know them well enough that they stop seeing the disability first and foremost and instead focus on the person. Don't we all want that?


c smith said…
Yes! I hate having someone go on and on, " meet this mom, she's amazing, she has 10 kids and does this and this and this". It's not that I'm so modest I just think that what I do is exactly what any mother would do for her children if she needed to. rather be praised for my amazing cooking or writing or anything that's about me.

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