It seems there is a long way to go.
Listening to the commentary of the Paralympics athletic events last night made interesting viewing for the wrong reasons.
The camera panned across the competitors on the starting line while they were being introduced to the crowd: the commentator used words like ‘tall’ and ‘lovely’ to describe the appearance of the more able bodied athletes and did not describe the more disabled athletes.
Curiously the commentator at the biggest Paralympic event in the world appeared to have no awareness of his own prejudice: that we all have – we judge people from a norm: or what is generally considered to be acceptable – to us.
Generally this is backed up by a series of complex and hidden assumptions. For instance if you are a white male accountant of average height and build, who has a wife and 2 children, drives a Ford, has a mortgage, and goes to the football – you would be deemed to be in terms of UK culture normal and unnoticeable. Nothing about this person appears out of our comfort zone. Yet obviously many people are not like this or want to be.
We are hard wired to notice what is not ‘normal’. Walk down the street with a five year old past an adult behaving slightly outside the norm they will ask about the person, and what they are doing. We feel comfortable with what we perceive as the same as ourselves. It is a biological survival technique to protect us from threat: what is the same as us has the same motivations, the same wants and needs, so will have some sympathy and understanding to our situation.
To only perceive the world from our own stand point is natural. It takes hard work and educated enlightened individuals around us to prevent this. How would you reply to the five year old to explain an ‘abnormal’ behaviour is crucial: the tone of voice and explanation of the behaviour is the building block of human development: the response confirms the prejudice, or challenges it.
The Disability Movement made a step change when it considered itself from its own reference point, not the able bodied reference point. To see ourselves from an objective external position is important to mental health. It makes us think about ourselves and what we do, and the effect we have on others. We learn that others do not think like us or have the same experience even of the same things. It teaches us that we have to try and accept ourselves in all our strengths and weaknesses, so that we can make the best of the opportunities that come our way. The moving between and our own position and others’ positions gives a rich variation and complexity to our lives.
Recognising there is a way to go – living in the multi-cultural environment of London in 2012 watching the Paralympics is part of the antidote!
Copyright Adrian Scott North London Counsellor Blog 2012
All rights reserved
Disclaimer: This weblog is the view of the writer and for general information only.
This article is designed to provoke argument and critique.