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No Offense

wondering-sliderSo imagine, if you will, a grand new conference consisting of members of the disability community of all stripes. At our conference, we would have parents of children with disabilities, we’d have both kids and adults with disabilities, we’d have teachers and therapists and doctors. We would have writers and journalists who have written about disability issues, and we’d have politicians and policy makers as well. This conference of ours would welcome all, and it would be a model of inclusion.

This mythical conference of ours would have only one rule.

No one would be allowed to be offended.

Now, of course, that’s not strictly possible. Of course people would be offended; if the exchange of opinion were to flow freely, someone would be almost certain to find offense at something. But at this conference, no one would be allowed to stand up and say “That is offensive, the thing you just said!” No one would be able to clothe themselves extravagantly in their their hurt feelings. If you didn’t like what someone had to say, you would be free and in fact strongly encouraged to debate the merits of their position. But our conference’s one rule would mean that standing on the marble platform of deep and personal offense would not be allowed. The first person to express outrage and offense would be booed out of the hall, and their box lunch privileges would be revoked.

Imagine it. No one silenced, no one dismissed as ableist or privileged or entitled without being truly heard. No one would be called out for the way they made their argument, for the tone they used or the words they chose to represent themselves. No self-advocate would be allowed to rally their troops to have a parent’s words removed from the public record because they didn’t agree with them, and therefor would be deemed offensive. No parent would be allowed to hide their attitudes and choices behind a hallowed wall of “how dare you” indignation. No one at this conference would be allowed to mock someone else’s pain because they found it offensive, and therefore fair game for abuse.

No one’s perspective would be dismissed because their history renders them privileged and therefore inherently offensive. No one’s opinions would be ignored because of a neurological stumbling block or social impediment that might render their presentation to come across as, well, you know. Offensive. No one would be silenced because of who they were and what they might psychologically represent to another person, before they ever said a potentially offensive word.

No sputtering outrage. No gasping expression of deep injury. No “Well, I never!”, scented hanky lifted dramatically to the forehead.

And most of all, nothing would be prevented from being expressed out of fear of what our kids might think when they read them one day. These kids, the strongest and most pragmatic human beings any of us have ever known, they wouldn’t be protected from offense. They’ve fought big battles. Protecting them from possible offense isn’t like keeping them away from rattlesnakes. At the No Offense Conference, we would grant them the courtesy of deciding for themselves what they think of what parents and self-advocates alike say about them. At this conference, we might even assume that most of them already know.

It sounds impossible, I know. (When you arrive at the conference, take care not to step in the unicorn poop outside the convention center.) And yet, in this atmosphere of raw expression without fear or threat of offense, what might we learn? What might happen to the avenues of communication that could open up when we all stopped building walls and entrenching our positions, and instead just listened to each other? It’s possible that the whole thing would degenerate into chaos. That’s probably where the safe money would be bet. But it’s also possible that, stripped of our armor and our defensiveness and our haughty insistence that we are absolutely right and whoever disagrees with us is ignorant or a bigot or hateful or abusive or any of the other things that are thrown around so much these days, in this environment we might actually begin to understand.

There is so much offense in the disability community. It’s the one resource we never run out of. It’s flows from the bitterest parts of ourselves, the most sanctimonious and isolated regions of our souls. We’ve all been hurt so much by so many things, and only some of them stem directly from disability. It’s an impractical waste of time and effort to be offended by a seizure, or a developmental delay, or a crippling social anxiety. Getting indignant with a wheelchair doesn’t accomplish a thing. But that guy on that website who said that thing we didn’t like, and used that language that we disagree with? We can sure as hell choose to be offended by THAT.

But just imagine if we didn’t.

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