Who’s the Crippled One: On the Disabled and Eternal Significance

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“Disabled children teach many people, change many people, and help people reflect upon themselves, which is why they are the educators of society.” Pastor Jong-Rak Lee, The Drop Box

What if they are mentally disabled? Even if it was my kid, I wouldn’t want them to suffer. In that case, wouldn’t it be better to end it before it began?

So said the guy across from me in statistics class. We had been talking about abortion and why we believed it was or was not necessary or right. Disability was his reason for why abortion was needed.

They wouldn’t be able to find jobs, or support themselves. They might not even be able to do the basics of taking care of themselves. We would be paying so much money, putting in so much effort just for them just to keep living. And is that even really living for them, for anyone? We have the ability now to know if something like that is going to happen now before they’re born. Shouldn’t we be using that to our advantage? In a case like this, wouldn’t the best be just to abort?

I have several problems with his statement, and it’s not even about the issue of abortion. For one, I fail to see a direct correlation between disability and level of happiness or satisfaction in life. Second, I believe it is an incredible error to assume so generally that those with disabilities are incapable of achievement or making a life for themselves. Finally, my last problem with his statement is that it implies that those that are disabled, are inconveniences.

It is more than possible to be disabled and depressed, emotionally or circumstantially. Many who are homeless are also impaired, whether physically or mentally. Many kids that fall behind in school are disabled in some way or another. But that does not necessarily indicate that disability inherently causes a lesser quality of life. Rather, I think the cause often actually sits most directly on the rest of us, because we often sorely underestimate how much the disabled can do and achieve. It is the rest of us that forget or figure it is simply not worth it to make sure that the disabled are included, whether in education at schools or the workplace. We deem them not efficient or economically valuable enough to accommodate for. We decide that they are not equal, and not worthy of looking out for.

So here we find an outlook that is sorely in need of revision. And at this point it’s not even about abortion. When it comes down to it, it centers upon what we define as a disability, and why we attach stigma to it. It comes down to whom we define as human, as who is worth treating as such.

Perhaps at its most basic, it comes down to what we value as wisdom or foolishness, important or insignificant. In the United States, we most often value productive, self-made individuals of society. We value the image of assertiveness and ambition, freedom and independence, and an intelligence and self-sufficiency. So when we encounter those that may be less able mentally or physically to achieve that ideal image of a member of society, they are considered disabled. And unless they prove themselves by some great feat or rise above their condition in a inspiring victory story, they are often counted as merely part man or woman, if accounted for at all. Perhaps we do not say it out loud. Perhaps we are not even aware of such bias inside of us. But the general tendency to avoid or omit conversations about disability, and our lack of attention towards accommodating and encouraging those we consider disabled say enough on their own.

Maybe, at the very roots, what needs to be changed is what we value. Perhaps what needs to be changed is the idea of what ‘getting far in life’ means to us, and what is truly important or worthy of value.

For example, the greatest argument I hear against the mentally disabled is that they often cannot make a living out of their lives. That, though, I think would depend on what you consider making a living.

Indeed what would happen if we valued a humble but happy life over one perpetually in pursuit of financial gain and the American Dream? What if we valued the simple things, like colors, smiles and laughing together over the need to stress about succeeding in business or outcompeting everyone else? What if we didn’t despise dependence, but allowed it to keep us transparent with one another?

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world”The Hobbit

That doesn’t sound like a terrible world at all. Perhaps it might even be a better one. Instead of finding it odd or terrible that they cannot do certain things we value as productive or successful, what if we instead learned from those that are considered mentally impaired to value things that are most simple—that actually matter most to us at the end of the day? Successful productivity doesn’t necessarily equate to eternal significance anyhow. Unfortunately, we tend to find out that we had it all backwards and upside down only at the end of our lives.

So what then is of real value, or of the eternal significance that we should seek? And once we’ve figured that out, who then was the one who was truly impaired or disabled all along?

“Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?…For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength… Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” – 1 Corinthians 1:20-27