Sunday, September 23, 2007

Compassion: your mileage may vary

Recently, Joel, whose blog I read regularly and very much like, wrote a post at NTs Are Weird about what should be required of autism advocates that included the statement, "If I laugh at people who don’t exercise, because they are unathletic, I’m also laughing at people who are unathletic for other reasons..." This is an extreme position. By the same logic, I would not be able laugh at a foolish decision made by George Bush because I would also be laughing at people who make foolish decisions due to an intelectual handicap. Similarly, I couldn't titter at old ladies dressed in clashing colors for fear of offending the color blind, or rib friends who invested in condos in Florida in 2006, out of respect for those with dyscalculia. In fact, taken to its logical conclusion I could not even look down on people who look down on other people, because that would be unfair to psychopaths.

Not that there is anything wrong with that.

There is a lot to be said for seeking to act in a way that causes the least offense and the least suffering in others. That's not generally how I hang (for example, see my other blogs:, and but I have plenty of respect for those have chosen that path. The Dali Lama and Jesus come to mind, but there are plenty of ordinary, run-of-the-mill nice, friendly people who live by the same lights. (For that matter, my son is one of them. If I rail at divers engaged in unsafe and illegal maneuvers in the road ahead, he will chime in with, "It's not their fault. They probably just don't know how to drive very well.") I'll be the first to admit that compassion in word, deed and thought makes the world a more pleasant place and does wonders for the general psychological wellbeing of the compassionate themselves. I just don't see the need to tie it to disability. I think that Joel and some other people in the disability rights movement may be hanging too many coats on one peg.

If you are going to be understanding and accommodating of every difference out there, there is no reason to perceive this solely in the framework of disability rights. You can go ahead and just be a really nice guy in general. By the same token, there is no need to see this sort of generalized compassion as a prerequisite for advocating for specific disability rights. I know a quadriplegic fellow who is a very effective advocate for wheelchair access who disses his opponents by saying things like, "Unlike them, my disability is from the neck down." This is very rude to people who have a genuine intelectual disability, but the person in question still gets ramps built. He's just a jerk. That's all. Just as one can be friendly and autistic, or be physically disabled and be athletic, one can also be a disability advocate and a jerk.

People are complex and imperfect, disability advocates are no different.

1 comment:

Dadof6Autistickids said...

I found an 'Autism guide' for parents and teachers on the website of the National Education Association (NEA). It has a LOT of good info that parents should make sure their school district and teachers of your children have AND use. I thought you and or your
readers would find it useful.

I have more details and the link on our blog.

Good luck!