Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Steve Jobs offers a bit of perspective

Last year, I posted a blog entry about a theme park in China where dwarfs, not rides and not animals, are the main attraction. I was asked about the park by a reporter. I said many things to the reporter. I tried to be supportive of the people who chose to work at the park. But I also made a very negative comment about the fact that the park existed. The story only printed the negative comment. The quote, within the context of the rest of the news story, made it appear that I was very critical of the dwarfs who worked there. While I wish that dwarfs in China, as well as dwarfs around the world, could choose from a variety of quality jobs to make a living, I regretted the quote. The quote failed to consider the perspective of someone in a situation that could be very different from the situation in which I am living.

I was reminded of that story today on my way to work. While on the train, I read an article called "Steve Jobs: An American 'Disgrace.' The story talks about a factory in China where laborers manufacture Apple products. According to the story, the conditions at the factory included "thirty-four hour shifts, beatings, child labor, an epidemic of suicides." The story went on to say that"Faced with a public relations problem relating to suicides, the company installed wire mesh on the factory windows to stop workers from jumping..." Based upon this story, published in The Nation, working at the Dwarf Theme Park is a dream job.

Though I have learned the importance of perspective, Little People of America and dwarf advocates should not turn our backs on institutions in this country and around the world that limit opportunities for people of short stature. In other words, if popular culture treats people of short stature like an inanimate object, a joke, or something less than human, it may have an impact on how the general population relates to people of short stature, and it could impact mainstream employment, education and social opportunities for people of short stature. Our job is to broaden the general population's perspective of people of short stature. We need to deliver the message that people of short stature are full and equal participants in the general population. The more this happens, the more people in the general population will embrace dwarfism as a natural part of a diverse population. If we are able to get that far, then more mainstream opportunities will open up for people with dwarfism.

Again, though I have learned about perspective, I don't think that a young man in China who dances a jig for the amusement of tourists at a dwarf theme park is going to change the attitude of a legal partner in the United States who needs to hire a new associate and who believes a male lawyer needs to be more than five feet tall. If anything, the theme park would reinforce the partner's misguided assumption of what a lawyer should be.

But we have no idea what circumstances led the person in the China to the job. And we have no idea what circumstances that person would be in if he didn't take the job. All we can do is try to keep in mind that each of goes through life with a different set of choices and a different set of opportunities, and to do our best to do what we think will open up those choices and opportunities.

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