Is there anyone left who doesn’t have a handicapped sticker on their vehicles? I drive a lot between several offices and it seems that every third vehicle has a handicapped tag.
Before you get your blood pressure up, it is none of my business whether or not someone needs a handicapped tag. That isn’t where this article is going, but it makes a perfect illustration for what I want to address. Our behaviors say something about us individually and our group behaviors say something about us collectively.
A year ago I had a serious accident that nearly took my life and created a major interruption in my mobility for many months. I could have gotten a disability tag and it would have made my life much easier. And if I had gotten that tag, I probably could have kept it forever. After all, I’m in the geriatric population and it wouldn’t be hard for me to get whatever confirmation I might need to present about the difficulties of my injury, my age, and my aches and pains.
But I didn’t because I refuse to see myself as a victim. I prefer to see myself as a survivor.
In my ten-year study of survivors of trauma, one of the things I found that separated healthy survivors of trauma from those who were debilitated was the unwillingness to see themselves as victims. As hard as the troubles they faced might have been, they never gave up. They clung to a philosophy of “I can” as opposed to “I can’t.” Actually, for most of them, they didn’t even recognize this as a philosophy. It was more of an assumption.
More than ever, we live in a culture of victimization and entitlement. The metaphor of the handicapped tag simply illustrates it. I watched a driver wait several minutes for a handicapped parking spot at a store not long ago. There was an open spot right next to it. The lady got out and spryly walked into the store.
Again, I know I don’t know what all might be going on in her life. My own leg injury would be invisible to anyone looking unless I was wearing shorts and sandals. I also know handicapped spaces are larger to make room for wheel chairs, walkers, and other mobility assistance. But that didn’t appear to be a problem for this lady.
My father was a child of the depression. He grew up with very limited means and worked hard to be successful, and he was. Thankfully, he now is living a restful retirement for which he worked very hard.
From my very youngest days he instilled in me the idea that I was responsible for myself. I got my first job when I was in the fifth grade and I’ve never had less than two or three jobs at a time since then. I’m grateful for that training.
When I left home for a life as an adult it never crossed my mind to rely on anyone but myself. I just assumed I would make ends meet and I faced each challenge over the past nearly 60 years with an assumption that I would survive.
There are times where we have to ask for help. There is no shame in that. Whether it is food stamps, government housing, or other assistance, a responsible society helps those in need to get back on their feet. One of my dear colleagues told me once that if it hadn’t been for public assistance she wouldn’t have made it. But as soon as she was able, like any survivor, she took responsibility for herself and her family. She is now a doctoral student and has come a very long way in life to care for herself, her family, and her loved ones.
Our behaviors have meaning on the micro scale (our individual decisions), a meso scale (our communities), and a macro scale (our nation). These behaviors say something about what we value and where our priorities lie.
If an archeologist 1,000 years from now were to dig up a bunch of vehicles from this period in history, she or he would probably conclude were a bunch of ill, unhealthy, and needy people. I think we are more than that and I don’t want to be a contributor to that conclusion.
I can predict the angry email I’ll get from this column. “My grandmother …” “You can’t assume …” “Have you no empathy for those who …” I’ll probably get at least a few emails arguing that “handicapped” or “disability” are politically incorrect terms. Anyone considering that, be aware in advance that you will only be validating my point.
[Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D., is a college professor, published author, licensed counselor, certified professional counselor supervisor, newspaper and online columnist and public speaker. His website is gregmoffatt.com.]