28 December, 2012

Experience placeholder

Remember how I'm always writing posts and saying "this is a placeholder for a longer post or a series of posts?" Usually I don't finish the series and the placeholder is all there is.

Anyway this is a placeholder for a series, some parts written and some not, about the idea of experience.

Experience is supposed to be this all-powerful thing that is impossible to measure or define and therefore is impossible to simulate. Even though it's not possible to measure experience, it is supposed to be possible to tell when someone's experience isn't real enough experience. If you are lucky enough to acquire real enough experience, then you get leeway to say horrible things and treat certain people however you want.

A good example is the response to the woman discussed in my previous post. Her comparison of her son to a mass murderer was wildly popular, and everyone who criticized it was chewed out for being "insensitive" and "judgmental." A repeated argument used against her critics was that they just didn't understand because they hadn't experienced what this woman had experienced. Sure, maybe on a totally superficial, divorced-from-context level, it might seem hurtful to publicly compare a 13-year-old to Adam Lanza because he makes threats.* But when you add the mysterious quality of "experience," the woman's behavior is legitimate and the most obvious judgment is wrong. People can feel good about themselves for understanding the complexity of the situation--which isn't to say they have to understand the facts, or even think about how they would feel in that situation. They just have to say, "Well I can't judge this person, it's complex."

Being around disability is supposed to be such an amazingly complex experience that when you make judgments about how to treat people with disabilities, basic decency and common sense go out the window. Is it wrong to do something violent, disrespectful, or mean to someone with a disability? Well, it's complex. No, it's not complex! It might make you feel like you are a sophisticated person with a grip on real world issues if you can talk about how these things aren't black and white, but it really just indicates that you either support unethical behavior, or don't have the confidence in your own convictions when the fairly meaningless quality of "experience" is invoked.

By the way, one of my coworkers at the non-Dream job is a woman who likes to bring up how inexperienced I probably am in the service of telling me that people with dementia should be treated like children and that anything bad our client reports about her is a lie. She is especially creepy, but I've run into a few people who assume I'm not experienced with disability because I like to treat disabled people normally.

I definitely went through a period in high school when I forced myself to swallow the whole complexity pill, but for a long time since then I have been learning to trust what's obvious. People with disabilities should be treated like other people and situations involving them should be judged the same way as other situations.

1 comment:

  1. Of course, experience is often considered irrelevant if you're disabled yourself.