I don’t know what it is, but lately I have seen a great increase in the mentality of “us” v. “them” – whatever form that happens to take. There have been articles printed separating nationality, race, religion, political affiliation (if any), sexual orientation, marital status, number of children (if any), and on and on the list goes. While by birth, preference, or biology, I fall into any number of similar or opposing camps, I can decide how I choose to treat those who are different from myself, starting with the one group of people who are very much like me – those who are visually impaired.
This observation – by pure coincidence – comes on the leadup to National Bullying Awareness Week. Perhaps also by coincidence, I have stumbled across articles that have detailed some of the double standards placed on those who have low vision by those who have none and vice versa. I must confess, however, that I am not immune to this “us” v. “them” mentality myself.
I have started reading biographies of people who are blind or have low vision, and I find myself frustrated by the perceptions of blindness that pervade many of these pages, particularly by those with low vision. I laughed out loud at Ryan Knighton’s antics in “Cockeyed“, but was embarrassed on behalf of other blind people when he detailed the week from hell at blind summer camp. I loved Nicole C. Kear’s “Now I See You“, but again was slightly dismayed by her journey of denial due to her own perceptions of what other blind people were like. Am I uncomfortable because I see myself or people I know in these pages? Or is it closer to home? Some of these writers are people with whom I should find kindred spirits, and yet I find myself jealous because some can see better than I can while – admittedly with a sense of humour – are detailing some of the worst stereotypes about people who will in all likelihood come alongside them when that precious vision is gone.
All of this is not to mention comments that I have seen (and occasionally made) about how sighted people “just don’t get it!” My friend Gregg has best described the dichotomy of building bridges and doing our best, but he is completely right; we will never 100% bridge those gaps.
Molly Burke is probably one of the most well-known Canadians who has been personally affected by bullying. She could choose to be angry at sighted people in general – how dare they insult her, taunt her, ridicule her? – but has chosen to spend her teenage years and young adulthood to bringing awareness to the effects of bullying. On the flip side, those who get past the novelty stage of our blindness or visual impairment should likewise be commended – not for their charity (“Good for you for befriending the blind girl!”), but for their simple willingness to see us as people.
Are we all just so afraid of our differences? Do we wrap ourselves up in righteous piety because WE have it harder than THEM? How arrogant can we be? While acknowledging these differences is not a bad thing and part of what makes our society so fascinating, we can’t wrap ourselves up in our differences at the exclusion of our shared humanity. If we avoid lingo that is designed to inflame and enrage (ableist, racist, etc.), the more likely we are to all understand each other just a little bit better.