Arlene is on the SCENE

Watch What You Say

Posted on: January 10, 2012

Look-it you! With yo’ pants all rolled up like a field hand! What’s wrong with you, boy?!

Just words, spoken by staff to a client of mine at a youth detention facility during a recent visit with him.  Putting aside the odd reference to slavery (that would be a whole other post), it was the tone that kept resonating in my brain for the rest of the day.  That unbridled contempt–what dark past did that explode from?  Why direct such disdain toward this 16-going-on-10 year old?  Because he was playing with his pants during a difficult conversation about his bleak future?

So I know this site is about fun things, a book that delivers a positive message about difference.  But my work brings me to another side of things, and I return with new lenses to look through.  How do I speak to others who are different?  Not just in words but in tone.  Especially when it comes to someone living with a developmental difference, or with autism where sometimes the conversation doesn’t sync up.  Do I have “a tone?”  I’m sure I’ve never accused anyone of occupying the bottom rung of the hierarchy of slavery, but that staff’s comment must have generated from something within herself, some past experience?  And while some of us hide it better than she did, we all have biases and attitudes and past experiences that shape our approach to life and the people in it.

Problem is these are hard to see, harder to acknowledge, and change?  Forget-about-it!  But it’s a new year, and now’s the time to resolve to watch what we say.

It really boils down to what one young man said during a presentation at a school in New York: “We’re all here for a reason.  Doesn’t matter if you never move, never talk, never see anything.  There’s a point, you know?”

Yes, there is.  We can’t always see that point.  We sure do see categories, don’t we?  Autistic, tomboy, juvenile offender.  But meeting others with an truly open mind is incredibly challenging.  I’m hoping we’re up for the challenge.

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