Something has been eating at me since before the holidays.
A woman I admire deeply, essentially says I can’t admire her because I am just making myself feel better.
The argument is when somebody says “You’re so strong,” “you’re so brave,”… these are stories we tell ourselves so we don’t have to mess with anther’s jagged edges. We are told these are not compliments, they are abdications of compassion and understanding.
A well-known feminist and disability activist, Harilyn Rousso wrote a book in 2013 called Don’t Call Me Inspirational: A Disabled Feminist Talks.
Her argument is similar to the woman I admire. She comments in this article: “Inspirational is an easy reaction.” The author of the article said what Rousso resents is that people feel inspired by the fact that she gets up in the morning, gets dressed, dares to head out the door, and lives her life despite what others see as insurmountable obstacles.
Harilyn writes in her book, people think that “If you were me, you’d never leave your house and maybe even kill yourself. So I am inspirational because I haven’t committed suicide–yet.”
The article says Rousso contends calling her inspirational “without hearing what I say or knowing who I am is just a label or a stereotype. I’d rather you wait until you get past your initial, superficial, prejudicial reactions, see who I am and then decide if you like me or even hate me…at least those judgments would be real.”
Okay I will stipulate to the fact that just because I see somebody I should not and will not find them inspirational. I never have. However, if I observe someone carefully and I find them inspirational, if they fuel my fire to be better, if they make me see that I have to buck up and face my own challenges, then by God, I will choose to be inspired and I won’t feel guilty about it.
Let’s face it, I approach this from a different angle than many. I find many people inspirational, but because of my physical disability, my son’s Down syndrome and the recent death of my wife, I have also been honored to be told many times that I am inspirational.
I do not make the choice to judge or condemn the person that finds me inspirational. I know I am not perfect and that a more thorough search would produce a better inspiration, but who am I to judge what inspires that person?
The core problem with Rousso’s anger, in my view, is she is making this all about her. I think it is important to respect the feelings of the inspired person. If somebody is inspired by what they see as courage or determination or even kindness, I think I need to respect that.
I trust that anyone with a disability can absolutely and quickly smell and feel pity and that pisses me off too. I have felt it and I despise it. I think it is a very dangerous assumption, and probably an expression of my own repressed anger to equate expressions of inspiration with pity.
I believe we all have a purpose in this life and if one of mine can be to inspire then please feel free to be inspired.
Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance