Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Good Samaratin Complex

This is always a tricky subject for me. I'm sure most of you can agree that we, as people with disabilities, want to be treated with respect and as equally as possible. This, for me, means I understand that people get freaked about the fact I'm in a wheelchair, but.. suck it up, people! I understand people looking at something that is different, and not wanting to offend. What I don't understand is people's undeniable need to help. And this regardless of whether I actually need the help or not. I call this the Good Samaratin Complex. The "I really want you to think I'm a good person, and you're a person in need, so I'm going to help you, dammit". They can't hear the part where you say "um, actually, I don't really need, or want your help". I REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REAAAAAAAALLY HATE when people don't freakin' listen to me. I HATE those people who ask if I want help, and when I say no, help anyfreakinway! GRRRRRR!!

How I react in situations like this depends, of course, on my mood that day. Sometimes I can just shrug it off good naturedly. Other times, beware the poor soul who crosses my path! I have never actually set someone down and explained how their actions are actually very partonizing and demeaning, even when meant to be helpful. The truth is these situations make me extremely angry and uncomfortable. I usually end up just looking at them as if they're nuts. If someone asks me if I need help, I usually say no, politely. If they ask me if I need help when it seems pretty clear to me that I don't, that starts to tickle my irritation bone. One of the more obvious ones is when I'm waiting indoors for the Adapted Transport to pick me up. I often have a book with me, but even if I don't, I'm sitting there, looking out the door or window. Many people who go buy will ask me "do you want to go out?". That's when I scowl and say "No" and look at them as if they've just asked me if I have an extra squirt gun they could borrow. I react badly, but not as badly to other forms of the question. There's something about "do you want to go out" that is too close to how we talk to our pets. "Sparky! Want to go out Sparky? Want to go out? Ooooooh, that's a good boy! Let's go out, Sparky, let's go out!". .

What is it about a disabled person doing almost anything, wheeling, walking, looking at something, waiting for someone, reading a book, going to the bathroom, buying something, that makes people want to ask if they need help? Another thing I hate is when people drop what they are doing and run over to where you are to open the door for you, pass you that thing on the store shelf, carry your take-out tray. If someone's right in front of me and going out the door, it's common courteousy to hold the door open for me, and I appreciate that. When someone runs 60 feet to open the door for me, I don't appreciate it. It gives me a wicked sense of pleasure to know that most of the times I get through the door way before they can even reach it. I've also held the door open for people behind me and have been told "I should be doing this for you?" To this, I usually reply something like "I think the honour goes to whoever's first and faster".

I'm really torn most of the time as to whether to accept, educate, or just scowl. Ok, well, scowling is probably not the most productive solution, I admit, but educating every time can just be too draining, and being accepting of a situation that is patronizing makes me feel small and powerless. Remaining angry about it, even if I'm not sharing it, validates to myself that I'm right in at least feeling that this needs work. My mother and my brother just don't get it. They say they'd love to have people open the doors for them and I should just accept it and embrace it.

I've talked to a lot of people with disabilities and found it very interesting, considering my own experience, to hear that others have similar ones regarding family. Family members are often just a clueless, and sometimes more due to denial, as your average Joe out there. But that's a blog for another day. The older I get, I find the more clueless I seem to be about how to deal with this strange world around me. People tell me I am very independent and feel I'm successful despite my disability. Ok, so that's great. Yes, I've done a lot. True. However, there's so much more they don't see, including all the insecurities I have about my own abilities and how others see me. Situations with strangers who pat you on the head, start pushing you without asking, and freely ask you personal questions certainly make it hard for someone to maintain a strong, assured identity. I had this one situation once where it was winter and I was going home from the store. The sidewalks weren't great, so it was slow going, but I was managing, and getting a cardio workout along the way. All of a sudden I am being pushed. My frist instinct was to put my hands on my wheels and block movement. I look around, startled, and say "It's ok, I'm fine". The guy continues to push saying "Oh, I don't mind". I say "I don't need your help, I'm fine". The guy leaves me at that point swearing at me saying "I hope you get stuck in the f***ing snow". Yep. The Good Samaratin Complex. See your doctor immediately.


The Angry Gimp said...

Wow...I can't believe that guy that pushed you and got ticked off when you said you didn't need his help. And patting you on the head? I'd kick someone in the nuts if they did that.

I can't speak for the situations you've been in, but I go through similar or the same types of situations every day as well. My reaction is different about the good samaratins, though. I really feel good about people wanting to help, as I usually don't see it as patronizing. Most decent people will offer to help someone that they see struggling, whether they have a disability or not. I'm not talking about the people who push without asking, but if someone sees me struggling and makes a move to help, I'm grateful whether I need the help or not. It tells me that people out there have empathy, which is a good thing.

I think most of us would agree that the best feeling a person can have is helping someone else. I love to give. It's a two-way street, though, and it's good to be a good recipient too. When you turn someone down, it denies them an opportunity to feel good about helping someone. A lot of the time I let people help me even if I don't need it, just because I know that they're going to feel good about it. They may feel great all day because they helped the poor gimp girl through the door. The bonus there is that they usually grumble about lousy access, and that raises awarness of the barriers that people with disabilities face. I know that I'm capable of doing whatever they helped me with, and that's enough for me. Their validation of my abilities isn't necessary unless I feel like they're really patronizing me.

Katja said...

Big subject, and there are lots of different ways to approach it.

It's the patronizing offers of help that are hard to deal with. The non-patronizing ones are easy. Several of us coming into work, one guy gets the door for all, no big deal. He's got a comparative advantage in door-opening, after all.

But the implication that I would somehow get myself into a situation that would REQUIRE a stranger's help is really annoying. Faced with your "do you want to go out" scenario, I'd probably smile (cultural/gender programming, can't help it) and say, "No, if I wanted to be out there I would already be there."

Unsolicited pushing is just as rude as pushing on someone's body or trying to pick them up without their consent, even if the pusher doesn't know it, and deserves no kindness whatsoever but rather a strong telling off.

There's a fairly hilarious thread about this at flyertalk:

Ziggi said...

What you are encountering is probably part of a greater cultural experience. The move from "housebound" to worldbound, in large numbers by people with disabilities is a fairly new event. Many people may not yet know how to interact or relate to the "newcomers".

It's very similar to the situation faced by most people that immigrate to a foreign country and find themselves in a new society with a different culture. Some of the gestures, foods, and cultural habits and practices may be offensive to them. Disability is also a society with it's own changing culture.

This is probably a matter of give and take, education and awareness, by all parties. Assimilation and inclusion, they take some time and effort.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Rings a bell, doesn't it?
I was in a store last week, and a woman came up to me and wanted to push me. I protested, she insisted, I protested again--oh, I was very polite, but inside I was boiling.
I went down another aisle. There she was again. "Are you alone here?" she asked. I looked at her and smiled, but said nothing. She asked again. "Please. I'm fine," I answered.
Then--and finally I got really angry--she asked, "Who takes care of you?"
No comment.

Ruth said...

When I get offended in those situations, I think a lot of it has to do with their delivery of their comments, not the fact that they're offering help to me. The assumptions behind a lot of behavior by able bodied people that I see "beyond the bottom of my ramp" once I leave my home really astounds me. Speaking of which - as an amusing anecdote I guess ha ha- one day I rolled outside to find a neighbor using my wooden ramp as a jungle gym for her toddler and another toddler she was babysitting for...and when I asked her not to do that on my property, she said
"I have a right and my child has a right to go wherever we want without you making comments to us!" This was in my front yard...

My land is their land, their land is their land...personally the tudes get to me rant on!

imfunnytoo said...

My first full time job someone patted me on the head and said "good job.." in the same way one might pat a dog and say "good dog." I was 25 and married at the time. "Infuriated" doesn't begin to cover it...but I said nothing...I was still on probation at that job.