My friend Kim, who blogs about being blind, gave a classic example last week of how not to be kind. In her post “I Am Not Your Good Deed for the Day!”, she explained just how it felt to be manhandled into a chair by a coffee-shop patron who seemed bound and determined to score a few karma points. Kim wrote that the customer “…proceeded to grab me and push me towards the table. He shoved me into a chair and said, ‘I did my good deed for the day.’” (My confident and ever-eloquent pal Kim was quick to show him the error of his ways. Outbursts like “I am not an inanimate object!” and “I am not sitting at a table with someone who thinks like you!” were involved.)
Just days after I was captivated by Kim’s story, my daughter and I watched almost the same story unfold on a city bus as we headed home from a vocal lesson. It was rush hour, and consequently it was standing room only – that is, after my kid and I helped a very pregnant woman find the last vacant seat near the front of the bus.
A minute later, a woman with low vision and a white cane boarded the bus. Like anyone else of a young-enough age and with working legs, she was prepared to stay standing for the ride. But the man behind her was having none of that. “Excuse me, do you want a seat?” He asked her. “No thanks, I’m fine,” she replied. Did he listen to her? Rather, this man began wildly waving people out of their seats, announcing loudly to passengers: “She needs a seat! Give her a seat!” My daughter and I cringed on the lady’s behalf. Yet someone obediently jumped up, and the man grasped the lady’s arm and steered her towards the newly available bench. The woman was cornered. She quietly sat down.
I don’t think there’s any question that the man meant well. But as my daughter said (newly 14 and with a finely honed sense of fairness): “He treated her like an object! He thought he knew what was best for her!”
I’m all for kindnesses being extended to people with disabilities. I’ve written many times about total strangers and friends alike who have helped my husband out. By the same token, he has done many good turns for others. People with disabilities, like anyone, can excel at both performing and receiving good deeds.
But if you ask me, if both parties aren’t feeling fantastic by the end of the transaction, something has surely gone wrong in the process.