Friday, October 28, 2011

Competent to deal with a sometime intolerant culture

Yesterday, everyone on staff where I work participated in a Cultural Competency seminar. The seminar was designed to equip staff to work better with each other, with the consumers with whom we interact, and with other groups with which we work. The idea was that sometimes tensions exist between all of these parties -- Tensions that derive from diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences. The seminar was like a good class that I would sit through during my years in college, in so far that the seminar really got me thinking. But more so than anything else, the seminar got me thinking about the tensions that I confront in my day-to-day as a person with dwarfism.

Similar to my days as a college student, I took some notes during the seminar. I wrote down a bunch of things said by the facilitator. She said, “If you want to be in a world that works for everyone, you have to be willing to jump into the scummiest ponds.” That got me thinking. I wonder what that means for a person with dwarfism on the worst of days? A letter posted recently on the Washington Post blog referenced anecdotes from Bob Whittemore. Whittemore is a person with dwarfism. He wrote to the Post because he is against Florida legislation that seeks to repeal current legislation that prevents bars from hosting dwarf tossing events. He shared anecdotes with the Post. Whittemore wrote,

Have you ever, after a productive day of business, walked into a bar with your colleagues and customers to celebrate the day, and are suddenly grabbed by a total stranger who wants to pick you up and throw you as far as he can, because it would be a “hoot”?

This is one reason why Little People of America and many others are against the repeal legislation, because something as obscene as dwarf tossing affects many more than just the people directly involved. But beyond legal protections, how does one confront this type of behavior on an individual level? In order to create a world that works for everyone, do people with dwarfism need to submerge ourselves within the dirty ponds?

The facilitator also said yesterday, “The best way to deal with intolerance is to get related to people.” Does that mean we need to walk around in the shoes of the intolerant ones who treat people with physical difference as mere objects?

As distasteful as it sounds to give intolerance some room to maneuver in order to understand it, I think the facilitator is correct. If people with dwarfism, and other groups that are subjected to discrimination, are going to make change, we have to understand where and who the discrimination comes from, and why. But just because we make an effort to understand the roots and motivation behind discrimination and intolerance, it doesn’t mean we have to stop fighting against it.

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