Earlier this week, I read via BBC Ouch: No More Mr Nice Guy: When Disabled People Get Nasty by Laurence Clark and my heart sank.
I totally get that Laurence Clark is a stand-up comedian and it’s his job to be funny. I have no doubt I shall be laughing along with everyone else in squirming at his ‘getting nasty’ stories. Nothing wrong with shining a light on badly behaved, out of control, people – dis or not. Humour is a great way to illustrate just how capable all adults are of reverting to childish behaviour under pressure.
We all recognise ourselves in this. I’ve know that I’ve lost my temper or been surly and grumpy with people who are trying to ‘help’ me. You grab me or my wheelchair, unasked, at your own peril. Ditto for ignoring me, grabbing my stuff, channelling your contact with me via D, or talking very slowly or loudly.
But grumpy is about as far as it goes, no? When I have my grump on, I don’t feel good about being cross with people verbally. I see it as a failing in me. It means that I have lost control.
And it isn’t helpful. No other human deserves to be subject to my – or your – temper tantrums, not those close and not complete strangers either. And, especially, when they are trying, if clumsily, to be ‘nice’. Whatever the imagined provocation, responding to nice with nasty isn’t okay.
Tantrums and force do often work in resolving matters between an able/disabled person but that resolution, in my opinion, is not based on understanding but fear.
Not an ‘I’m shaking in my boots’ fear but more of a ‘get me out of here now’ fear – an emotion most adults feel at the prospect of any confrontation or violence. They walk away, simply resolving not to get themselves in that position again.
And is that really what we all want?
Laurence Clark talks about losing his temper, screaming blue murder and even biting people.
An able-bodied/minded adult acting out this way in public would be cautioned or locked up for anti-social behaviour. Certainly, most of us, seeing this, would cross the street, thinking ‘OMG, I’m outta here.’
The sad truth is that if a disabled person is badly behaved in public, they are cut some serious slack because they are disabled and no one wants to say, ‘FFS, grow up’ in case they are missing some disability related issue. All the bad behaviour does is confirm public perception of ‘eek, difference and abnormality’ alert. Time to back away.
As well, it’s just bloody selfish. You may not need the help offered but the next person might. If you’ve been horrible and aggressive toward an offer of help, how forthcoming will the next one be? When was the last time someone shouted, swore or was violent towards you and you thought, ‘must do that again?’ Pretty much never, I’d guess.
Behaving like a small selfish child is not an adult response to, well, anything. Most people do not understand the specifics of the multitude of disabilities that they may or may not encounter in those they seek to assist. How difficult is it to just say a firm no to unwelcome help, add a thank you and smile?
If that is tricky for you, well you might try being passively assertive – getting your point over without speech or tantrum.
For example, you could approach, say, Hannah Ensor at Stickman Communications and ask her to knock you up a few fun communication cards to flash/attach to your wheelchair. You know, her witty little stickmen cartoons saying:
I can manage but thanks for offering to help.
I know it looks like it won’t but this does work for me without assistance. Thank you.
Stop. If you grab me, I will fall over. But thanks for asking.
Stop. I don’t need help right now. Thank you.
Or even make some of your own if you feel inclined. I could go on but you get my point.
A few weeks ago, I saw my chiropodist who welled up with tears as she told me of the recent vicious verbal abuse she was subject to when offering to help someone who seemed to be struggling off the tube. She was actually afraid of being hit. For offering assistance!
As she relayed her tale to me, I felt more and more guilty, remembering the few occasions that I have reacted to offers of help with brusqueness. She said unpleasant rebuffing of help has become more common and was at a loss as to why. I did try and explain the frustrations of the ‘struggler’ and, she got it, really she did but will she offer help again? She hoped so but wasn’t sure.
So, while we all – able and dis – laugh with Laurence at our shared bad behaviour issues, in real life, perhaps we should at least try hard(er) to manage our anger like grown-ups, think around our problems and don’t f**k it up for those who do need and welcome assistance.
Leave nasty in the playground. Being taught that nice is good applies to us all and doesn’t it just makes everyone’s life easier?