Acceptance as a Way of Life

Generally speaking I am not a fan of labels at all (see my past entry about OI labels). But name-calling and verbal bullying is a form of labeling in its most loathsome state; this is a kind of labeling that isn't used to distinguish so much as it degrades, and it doesn't serve as an identifier so much as it discounts. Even if you don't have kids yourself, it's hard to ignore the anti-bullying efforts that have gone viral across social networks, mainstream media, and appear in headlines on a regular basis.
What's poignant about these anti-bullying efforts are the perspectives that they are coming from. Sheesh, can't believe I'm about to utter these words... but... Back when I was a child, anti-bullying efforts came from ridiculously cheesy cartoon characters, or adults who simply told us to "say no!" Or "don't say anything if you have nothing nice to say!" Now the efforts come from targets themselves - individuals who have taken the situation into their own hands and decide to rise above their abusers. We are only beginning to become a society that is able to look at its uglier aspects, even if it means we still flinch and want to look away instead.

The first times I heard the words "cripple," "crip," "gimp," or midget" were unmemorable. I don't recall the 'life-altering' moment when these words were first introduced to me, but it was probably around middle school that I knew these names existed (and isn't this the time when everyone else 'discovers' all the other insults??) No one else in my family has a disability, and I was generally the only student at school with a visible disability or used a wheelchair - with that said, I had no other adult or peer who would tell me the drawbacks and pitfalls of having a disability. I was very much my own lab rat. So when I first heard those words I didn't already know that they were negative connotations, it was the way the kid had said it in a jeering tone or a hushed voice so teachers wouldn't hear. But still, it took me a few years to fully realize that such language (especially coming from someone without a disability) was insulting and not to be tolerated. It also took me awhile to figure out what the words meant, and when I figured that out on my own - I simply decided that I didn't fit those terms so I wouldn't let it bother me.
When someone calls me a 'cripple' I see it as a descriptor of only a tiny slice of who I am. In my mind those labels don't apply to me because I simply don't associate myself with them. I'm too small to ride on most roller coasters but I'm too big to be captured in a one word insult. What can I say? I'm a dynamic person! When someone says that I'm a 'midget' my gut reaction is to say no shit I'm short - good observation skills Sherlock. How about you tell me something I don't already know? Usually it's not long after that the person realizes I'm a 'midget' who will readily give you a swift word lashing if you irritate me enough. Over time I have been able to accept my disability, whether or not I'm consciously aware that I'm even doing so. Being able to do that, in my own way and at my own pace - has helped me build a better sense of myself and identity so that when I am called names, my foundation is not as easily rocked. I've continued to work hard at understanding what makes me Sandy; it will take a lot more than a bunch of ignoramuses throwing around names to undo that.      

Having any kind of disability isn't always the most stereotypical beauteous thing to have. At least not readily, not when the disability is seen by itself, not without some self-produced effort and conscious decision to accept the disability. But acceptance takes work, it takes time, it takes failure, it takes strength.. and all of the other most difficult nuts and bolts of life that a person encounters in one lifetime. I believe that this is why so many resort to rejecting somebody's difference so quickly; simply stated - it's just easier to reject the difference than it is to accept. Just slap a label on it and shove it into some other crowd, or program, or institution and society doesn't have to look at it again for at least another 10-20 years.
But as we've seen throughout history, it's becoming increasingly difficult to just 'slap a label' on something and try to suppress the voices. I guess that the point of this ramble is that addressing bullying issues isn't just about understanding the need for equality, or inclusion. It's far more than the physical safety and mental sanity of our young people. And it should always be about more than the liability of the institutions that these incidents happen in. When we seek to address bullying in our schools (and elsewhere), I hope that there is some aspect of creating a space where every child is able to discover those tougher 'nuts and bolts of life' that I had mentioned above. Call me an idealist or what have you, but I believe that given the chance and opportunity - every young person has the ability to accept, no matter how difficult that process may be.

We can all make acceptance a way of life and not just an ideal we strive for, or a campaign platform we lobby politicians to provide legislation to. Every one of us has something to accept about ourselves; so let's stop wasting time doing something "because it's easier" when it's only robbing us of time we should be investing in something of far more value: bettering ourselves.

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