The Guilt of Resenting the Handicapped

I cannot imagine that I am the only person uncomfortable around handicapped people, but I’ve don’t recall ever reading someone else’s reasoning, so here goes my own.

Handicapped people make me uncomfortable. It’s not so much that their handicap itself makes me uncomfortable, but I am unpleasantly perplexed as to my own uncertain social obligations in regard to their handicaps.

I am a very private person. Intruding upon another’s personal space seems to me one of the more egregious wrongs to do a person. Yet with the handicapped, that personal space is undefined and not easily intuited. I also resent the handicapped because I feel an obligation to help them. I’m the type that holds the door open for people and gives up my seat on the subway. With the handicapped, the necessity of assistance is greater, and generally more involved. I hate that I don’t want to help them more than momentarily. I realize that my point of view is condescending. I feel further guilt for the condescension. I remember many years ago, at college, helping a developmentally disabled person, stuck in a wheelchair, get to a men’s room. I was cheery and happy to lend the assistance, but when he asked for help to get on the toilet and do his business, I also cheerfully fled with banal excuses. I felt terrible to have fled, but more relieved not to be wiping his ass.

I watch two young children, and yet with them the pressure is less because the expectation of autonomy isn’t there. But since one expects a grown person to be self-sufficient, one resents it when they are not. Should one come to the handicapped’s assistance, one resents being the only person stuck with the chore.

Let me give a small illustration. The other day, I was in a diner and an old man was using a walker to get to his table. His progress was very slow, a snail’s pace of a few feet a minute. I had seen him come in earlier, and assumed he was with company. Yet here he was, unaccompanied, moving at a glacial pace to his table, and, incidentally, blocking my passage. Yet I did not come to his assistance. First, I wondered where the rest of his party was. Secondly, I did not want the trouble of guiding him all the way to his seat, and then there was the possibility that he didn’t want any help. So I patiently waited for him to proceed and then I moved past him and back to my party. My behaviour was no worse or better than the dozens of other people in the dining room, yet I resent my own and others’ inaction and the lack of charity it revealed. It’s a terrible example of my point, perhaps because my point is itself a terrible one. The terror is not in it’s overt malignancy, but rather in the repulsion that remains hidden and secret.

The physically handicapped are not the only ones handicapped. There are the mentally handicapped. To this I do not only mean the psychotic and the neurotic, but all of us whose thinking doesn’t work quite right, who could use a little help to function normally: the shy, the stupid, the tactless. Then there are the socially handicapped: the lonely. There are the financially handicapped, which is anyone poorer than you are. Of course, you are financially handicapped in the eyes of those richer than you. Do the rich despise the poor as I despised that old man? And to the blind resent the sighted as the poor resent the rich? The world is filled with broken people desperately in need of help, yet to help them all sufficiently is impossible.

So what’s to be done? I have no solution, just as a blind woman can’t see. Don’t hate me for my foolishness, or resent me for my honesty, or scold me for turning over rocks best left unturned.

My purpose in writing is not just catharsis, but a hope for more openness. How much does one discuss a handicap with a handicapped person? On the one hand, one does not wish to be boorish. On the other hand, shouldn’t one discuss obvious and important things, at least in passing to acknowledge their existence? One fears starting a conversation that, while new to you, is tiresomely old to the handicapped. But am I really not supposed to ask my child’s pediatrician, Dr. Quinn, if she’s also a medicine woman? She had hear the joke before.

Should I resent the more erudite for their ability to convey their thoughts better than myself? I know for sure that I resent unsolicited criticism of my writing.  Praise me or shut up. Hey, I’ve already forgotten about the handicapped, those needy assholes.

2 Responses to “The Guilt of Resenting the Handicapped”

  1. Natural Says:

    hey we’re all handicapped, some are just more visable than others.

  2. Dan Says:

    The definitions you give of the various ‘handicaps’ serve well to illustrate the nature of context on these circumstances. The old saying goes ‘In the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man is king’ - by this meaning, and by your definitions, in the kingdom of the one-eyed, the blind man is handicapped. It is not in fact the kingdom, but the the situation that provides the handicap - in this case, where visual acuity is needed, the blind man is worse off. And yet life does not revolve around a single scene where one strength is required - the financially handicapped are not handicapped ‘in the eyes of the rich’, but only in situations where financial wealth is required. They may be considered handicapped in building an impressive share portfolio. While the share portfolio may be highly important for the rich man, the poor man has no need for such thing, and therefore is unlikely to suffer for it - it is a field where the two are unlikely to compete in. In parallel, the blind man is unlikely to undertake competitive birdwatching, or clay pigeon shooting against a monocular or binocular oponent, and he will doubtless suffer very little for this missed opportunity. Most handicaps are in fact nothing of the sort, being only perceived by the non-handicapped party - and often only become relevant when the individual suffers in any way.

    The most frequent suffering is rarely caused by the handicap itself, but by the reactions and responses of the others without this handicap. Your own thoughts and responses thoughts are not unusual - countless studies on human altruism have been done, and shown that humans will regularly acquiesce in the face of murder, nevermind a moment assisting someone less able bodied than themselves.

    And because this attitude is so universal, there is a regular opportunity to assess the situation and reasonably conclude that the responsibility lies elsewhere, that assistance is not required, or that you have a legitimate reason not to be able to offer help. But if you have ever been faced with another individual offering help where you have not (especially if they have approached from a further distance away, and in some way have appeared less ’socially responsible’ than you), then this brings a greater shame - namely that you had assessed the need or responsibility for assistance, and you were wrong. And not only were you partially responsible for any suffering up to the point the assistance was provided, but if no-one had provided assistance then you would have been further responsible for the continuing suffering.

    I think that the previous comment that we are all handicapped says a lot. The second richest man in the world is handicapped. THe silver medalist is handicapped - more so than those that do not even come to compete, as this is where the suffering can be especially pointed - one step below the top. But this is where there is a choice to compete. It may be unkind (but not unreasonable) to consider yourself (and the majority) ’socially handicapped’ - compared to the individual who eventually came to finish the task for the gentleman whom you assisted to the mens room. But your handicap in this position caused you suffering which was outweighed by the avoidance of the task - consider that the man in the wheelchair faces the humiliating experience of requesting help for a very private task from a complete stranger on a regular occasion, and somehow I doubt the sting of this will ever dull. I wouldn’t like to be called upon to wipe someone elses backside - but I’d like it a hell of a lot less if they had to wipe mine.

    I don’t wish to preach - doubtless I have equally shirked my social responsibility on numerous occasions. But if the general attitude of the masses was the reverse of its current state, there would be substantially more invasion of personal space, but a proportionally greater reduction in suffering.

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