This started out as a Facebook Status but I soon realized that it had to be a blog post because I had way too much to say on the subject. Even if you find this uninteresting I do have something important to say at the end of this though so if you don’t want to read all of it I ask that you skip ahead to the line “IF YOU SKIPPED AHEAD YOU RESUME READING HERE”.
In the last year I have been making a huge effort to change the way I use social media. This started because I found that rather than making me happy, I was feeling shitty after logging on. Because there are so many friends I only have contact with on FB, I wanted to continue logging in daily to communicate with these much loved people so I chose to find a different way to be involved in social media.
What ended up making FB a happier place for me was ultimately taking responsibility for my own FB habits. I realized that no one was making me read posts I didn’t like and I was choosing to get myself worked up about them. So I started using the “hide all posts by ___” feature that appears when you click in the upper right corner of any post and click “hide this”. This ensures that I just don’t see posts that come from pages I don’t agree with from moral, political, or intellectual points of view. And if a person habitually posts things I find offensive or annoying but I don’t want to unfriend them, I just unfollw them so I no longer see their posts in my newsfeed. Boom! Easy as pie.
I have also started taking what I like to call the “mind your own fucking business” approach to social media. After unintentionally hurting the feelings of someone I care about by posting an article in response to something they posted, I realized that in most cases people are going to believe what they want to believe and there is very little, if anything, I can do to change that. So even if I believe their point of view or idea to be wrong and/or dangerous, I don’t need to correct them or share my alternate view (even if I “know” I am right). I just hide their post and move on with my day (with the exception of things like missing children who aren’t really missing or hoaxes that will put people in bad positions/actual danger).
In turn, I avoid posting about things that I don’t want to debate. Yes, I do have the urge to make posts regarding things I feel passionate about, but like the rest of you, if I am passionate enough about my political and spiritual points of view that nothing you or anyone else says in opposition is going to do much to change my mind (unless I am given a rational and verifiable alternate view that is backed up by sound and educated reason or scientific evidence). I don’t enjoy debating about things like this. These beliefs are part of what makes me who I am. I have been concerned with social justice, equality, and protecting our most vulnerable citizens since I was a very small child. These are the things that are important to me. That just isn’t going to change. So why, in a social situation (which is what FB is… duh… “social media”), would I feel it necessary to share an option that I am not open to debate on? I have never in my life walked into a party and said “Abortion. Pro or con? Let’s go!” or “Hey, how do you feel about that Jesus fella people are always talking about?”
It took me a while to get over the urge to share about my closely held beliefs but when I sat back and examined why I wanted to do it in the first place and found it unnecessary to share in the social media format after all (in most cases). Look, we all want our opinions and feelings validated. All of us! How good does it feel when you post something and people jump in with their atta boys/girls? Even when it is something silly we LOVE it when people give us a virtual pat on the back. So although I do feel that FB is like my digital livingroom and I should, in theory, be able to speak about whatever I want to without some asshole jumping down my throat, in practice this attitude doesn’t work as non confrontational in any social setting. I use to be fond of using the house party scenario as an example for explain why I was free to talk about whatever I wanted to on FB. You know… “Would you come into my home and attack my deeply held beliefs like you have here in this nearly anonymous setting?” But that only works if you are the sort of asshole who invites people into your home and then goes around speaking on sensitive subjects expecting your guests to just smile and nod at you. I am not one of those assholes. My mother raised me to be far more polite than that!
IF YOU SKIPPED AHEAD YOU RESUME READING HERE
I have been doing really well with this transition into responsible and respectful social media usage, and it has worked. FB is wonderful again! I love logging on and checking in with my friends and family. I love the power this new found approach gives me over my own social media experience. It is very uplifting… About 98% of them time. But then I see things that I don’t know what to do with and it awakens the little 4th grade Katie who got sent to the Principal’s office after losing it (crying, screaming, shoving and fiercely lecturing) when she witnessed a group of older boys bullying a mentally handicapped girl in the lunch line. Unkind, judgmental, and uninformed generalization of minority groups really pisses me off. And this especially pisses me off when it comes from people who call themselves “Christians” (because that is absolutely NOT Christ-like behavior). This especially pisses me off when it involves the minority group I begrudgingly have to admit I have belonged to for the last 10 years.
I have a disability. I didn’t ask for it (no one does). I wish I could give it back. I don’t want it. But I have a disability just the same. Am I “less disabled” than some people? Absolutely. Am I “more disabled” than some people? Yeah, I probably am. Yes, I get social security disability. Yes, I have a handicap parking permit. Yes, I use the door to door city bus service for disabled citizens. Yes, I had to prove that I do indeed have a disability to get the assistance I need to live a life as close to “normal” as I can. No, it wasn’t easy. None of it was.
It has taken the majority of the ten years since my illness to wrestle with my emotions and arrive at a place that I feel OK about myself and having a disability. But having gained this self-acceptance doesn’t mean that I am immune to the cruel things that people say and think about the disabled, and despite my new found approach to responsible social media, it doesn’t mean I am not wounded when I see hurtful memes pop up in my newsfeed. In fairness (because I always try to be fair), I don’t believe people think before they post things a lot of the time and I am positive the person who posted what I am about to use an example didn’t mean for it to be hurtful to me or even thought of me or any disabled person he/she knows before posting it (which is why I didn’t immediately unfriend them). I actually know this person to be kind, giving, intelligent, and hilarious so giving them the benefit of the doubt is reflexive. This is why I am not calling them out by name. I am also not calling them out by name because I see this shit on a weekly basis from many of the 200-some-odd friends I have on FB. Sometimes it is just people commenting on posts others have made to say how fucked up they are, but often it is stuff like the image below and I feel maybe people just need a reminder/awakening/alternate perspective about memes like this (and this can apply to numerous other situations, not just disability awareness).
This is offensive on so many levels I barely know where to start, but I am going to make a list of things that people are completely forgetting about/not thinking about/do not consider when they see memes like this and stop when I think I have covered all the bases.
- Does this person know his picture has been taken?
If he is unaware of his picture being taken or of it being used for this meme then the person who created it is exploiting the man to make their point and that is just gross. (I won’t even get into the fact that the odds this image was most likely being used without the permission of the photographer and that is blatant copyright infringement).
- We know nothing about this man other than the fact that he appears to be a complete bad ass with ninja sod moving skills. I repeat: WE KNOW NOTHING ABOUT THIS MAN. We don’t even really know what is happening in this image. There are no photo credits telling us where the picture was taken or for what purpose. There isn’t a caption telling us why the man is doing what he is doing. Yes, the text added to the meme implies that this man figured out a way to adapt to his disability so he can work. But we don’t know that is really what has happened. Maybe this image came from an article written about the abuse this man has suffered by someone who tied that wheelbarrow to him and is forcing him to do this work. He might be in a great deal of pain. He could be doing this because he literally has no choice for many reasons. We can’t possibly know what is happening in this picture by looking at it.
- Assuming that this man is doing this of his own free will and has engineered this clever way of getting the work he needs to do done there are still many assumptions being made in this meme. Rather than assuming that this image is what the meme text suggests, we should be asking questions about it.
- Was this man born with no /armarms? Perhaps he was and he has had his entire life to learn how to function without them. It is difficult to tell his age from the image but I am going to guess he is in his 20s. Assuming he was born with no arm/arms (or lost them as a very young child), he has had 20 something years to learn to function without arms… furthermore, he would have never known another way of doing things as he has always lacked arms. Surely this would make a difference, right? Is this a fair comparison to make against every other person lacking limbs? Even those who have lost them after a lifetime of having them?
- This meme is also assuming that this is the man’s job. We can’t know that. All we see is a man moving sod in a wheelbarrow. Has his community suffered a recent disaster and this is his effort to help rebuild? Is he volunteering to help build shelter for those who don’t have shelter? Is he being forced to do this? Is he actually being paid to do this? If this is his job is he receiving pay equal to his coworkers who have all their limbs? Is he being exploited in any way? Is he able to do this work at the same efficiency as his coworkers? If not, is he treated differently because of this? We cannot know this based solely on what we see here.
- Where is this man? What country is this image taken in? Perhaps he lives in a country where he doesn’t have a choice. Maybe there is no system in place to help the “disabled” live productive lives in a safe and healthy way. For all we know he could be in a great deal of pain… think about how it would feel to have ropes tied to your bare skin and then lift heavy object with said ropes. It probably doesn’t feel great. He could be doing this work because he has no choice and has no one to help him feed his family. If you think of it from that perspective, this is a rather heart breaking image.
- How can we possibly compare this one man to every other person with a disability on this planet? Does this meme honestly intend to compare a man with missing limbs to someone who was injured in an accident and has become paraplegic? Are we weighing what this man is doing against someone who has suffered a traumatic brain injury? What about people who were born with physical or mental disabilities? Are you telling me that my cousin Linda, who had encephalitis as a small child which left her with the mental capacity of a young child for the rest of her life, should just get a job and support herself? She should move out of her group home, get a job, and just figure out how to pay bills and get around to do shopping and all the daily, basic things humans do to keep themselves alive on her own? This is a very unfair comparison and a harmful, sweeping generalization of handicapped individuals.
- This is a touchy subject as it so politicized, but because it is important to the point I am making I am going to bring it up. There are many unfair assumptions made about social security disability and the people who benefit from it. I am aware that this subject falls under the category of “things people believe what they want to believe about” but I do think that some are simply uninformed, so it is worth bringing up. I will tackle these individually.
- People on Disability are getting handouts: Not true. No one expects to need disability income. Most will never need it. Regardless, that money that gets taken out of our paychecks every month is our payment into a pool of money that is set aside to help disabled and senior citizens financially when they are no longer able to work at jobs that will provide them with enough income to support themselves. I started paying into this pool when I got my first job at 14. I worked from the time I was 14 until I became a mother at 22 (I had a few instances of unemployment but never more than a couple of months at a time). I stayed at home with my son until he started Kindergarten and then I went back to work at 27 and worked every day, paying into this system, until I became ill at 33. In all of the accumulated years I worked, I paid into a system that ensured if I were to become disabled, I would have some financial support to help supplement the income I lost if I were no longer able to do my job. Unfortunately, I ended up having to use it. I sincerely hope this never happens to any of you.
- People on disability are “livin’ large”: This is also false. When you have to go on disability there are several things that determine how much income you receive but you are never, I repeat NEVER compensated at the monetary level you would be at a job. You receive only a percentage of the income you earned at your job depending on whether or not you are deemed partially or fully disabled. I was deemed fully disabled by my illness and even at the top level of disability payment I am eligible for, there is no way in hell that I would be able to support myself alone. Furthermore, even with the disability assistance, this has still put my family in huge and ongoing financial hardship. I spent my life savings keeping our heads above water before I was able to apply for disability. My husband has work harder than anyone should have to work to compensate for my lost income. It has put unbelievable strain on our marriage. It has caused crushing guilt and self-hatred on my end. I am in my 40s and do not own my own home. We wouldn’t be able to live without the small income I make and I am thankful for it. But don’t believe for one minute that I am financially secure, or that any other disabled person is. The income is a supplement meant to “assist”; no one gets to live off the federal government like a sugar daddy. It is a hard life that no one would choose, but I am thankful I live in a country that pledges to help/care for its disabled citizens.
- People are working the system right and left: False! Although there is a very small percentage of disability fraud, the majority of people who are on disability are truly disabled. Qualifying for disability is not an easy or pleasant process. Thankfully I was approved the first time through, but a very large percentage of people who apply are denied. Some have to go through the even more rigorous appeals process. Some never get approved. Once you are approved you don’t just get monthly checks for the rest of your life. There is a review process and every few years your case must be reviewed to make sure you still qualify for disability (this is federal law). This is an extremely stressful process. I am under my second review right now and it is the main cause for my recent bout of shingles. I can assure you, it would not be easy for the average person to dupe the government, and even those who do, eventually get caught (and have to pay back what they have received and/or do jail time). Disabled people are not criminals.
- Not all disabilities are visible. This one is self explanatory really… or at least it should be. Although I have a small bit of facial paralysis, I have been accused of using a cane or parking in a handicapped space because I am overweight. This is cruel. Rude. And downright assigning (also, I am not THAT overweight). But this is what many disabled people live with. Just like the man in the picture above, you know nothing about people you see out in the world. You don’t know what I live with daily. You don’t know what I or any other person with a disability does to compensate, or how physically and mentally painful those things are. Your judgment is unfounded and unfair.
- If you post things like this to shame people you feel are living on welfare because they don’t want a job by using the image of a disabled person to shame them, then shame on you for being so willing to objectify the disabled to make your crappy point. Posting things like the above meme, or making statements like this in person and then qualify them by saying things like “I didn’t mean you. I know you are really disabled” or “You are really the only truly disabled person I know so this only applies to people who are faking” doesn’t make it less hurtful. In fact, this doesn’t make you less of an asshole either. At best it makes you uniformed/unthinking and perhaps a bit callous to the feelings of your fellow humans. At worst it makes you an ignorant, mean-spirited, jerk who isn’t capable of even the most basic levels of compassion. Don’t be an ignorant, mean-spirited, jerk who isn’t capable of even the most basic levels of compassion.