culture ethics

helped helpers

I’ve long held that disabled persons have a gift.

Albeit is is a gift that few if anyone want.  But some of the most mature, caring people I’ve known (in my youth work and elsewhere) have been people who have had the privilege (one nobody asks for) of having a sibling or child who is disabled. Disabled people teach us to care.

But in this post, I wanted to record a different thought I had related to disability – and it might have the potential to be a bit controversial.

I’ve noticed that there is much effort to help disabled persons to be as ‘independent’ as possible.  To live in their own place, to get their own groceries, to drive their own car – that sort of thing.

I guess my question is when does the good, humane task of helping someone ‘stand on their own two feet’ (so to speak) become something that ‘helps’ them into a lifestyle that is isolating, individualistic and thus inhumane?

I have a conviction that humans are made to be burdens to one another, and yet it is resisted both by those who fear being the burden, and by those who fear bearing the burden.  This resistance, I’m convinced (and admit to in my own experience and choices), is part of the pressure of living in an individualistic society where ‘freedom’ is defined by how many (often consumer) options one has.

More choices, though, can be an enslaving thing.  I know a disabled person who has (again) been placed in a living situation that isolates them, makes them feel intensely lonely, and contributes to them seeking out friends that encourage behaviour that has got them into legal trouble multiple times.

But this person, like all of us at times, resists the help that they need so much.  I once threw out my back trying to – at the last minute – shift all my possessions between dwelling places.  Help is not easy to ask for – disabled or not.  And help is not easy to give.

So I’m just wondering.  Should we ‘help’ disabled people to become like us?  People who too often don’t know how to ask for help?  Thoughts welcome.

2 replies on “helped helpers”

Hi Dale,
I so relate to what you have said here. One of my nieces is Down Syndrome and now at age 32 is in her own flat with some support. But it seems to me that this is making it easier for her to stay inside all day watching DVDs and eating junk food. I find it very sad to observe since she is actually quite able to interact and take part in various activities and social situations – but only if she is in an environment where this is “part of life”. Left to be “independent” her choices are far from life giving.

Thanks Sheila!
That’s precisely the kind of experience that I was certain others know of. And again, it reminds me that we certainly don’t have to by (physically!) disabled to get ourselves into such patterns. Many thanks for sharing!

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