Disability Bingo

I’m deeply ambivalent on the subject of social-interaction bingo cards. On the one hand, I see them warp discussions, as people who are arguing with each other shoehorn nuanced statements into dogwhistle boxes in the name of…oh, I don’t even pretend to understand why someone would have that kind of discussion in the first place. On the other hand, they really can be quick, accessible, visual introductions to the kinds of things people say over and over again that are far less than helpful, or even thoughtful.

My friend Lynne knows how to use a bingo card, which is only one of the reasons she’s awesome.

Caitlin is not “confined” to a wheelchair (a term I saw used recently in another LJ community that drives me absolutely nuts). She uses a wheelchair. It is a tool, that helps her to be mobile. Like a car, but smaller. In a world that, frankly, isn’t as well designed for alternative modes of mobility as it should be, given how many of us over time will need to use similar tools.

We are not trying to “overcome” or fix Caitlin’s disabilities. We are adapting our life and hers to her current abilities so that she can have the fullest life possible, in a society that is not particularly structured for her to, you know, leave the house on a regular basis, interact with other people, etc.

Don’t worry, Lynne doesn’t leave people with just a list of don’ts, which tend to make people self-conscious and lead to the kind of avoidance that isolates people with disabilities. She gives things you can do when someone else’s disability leaves you feeling helpless. You should read them all, so I’m only going to share one:

Be the person who helps to drive demand from libraries and publishers alike for more stories about people with disabilities. Buy them. Read them. Read them to your kids.

Lynne also links indirectly to a fiction contest at the new Redstone Science Fiction (the first issue of which includes an interview with a payload rack officer on the ISS). The contest is asking for short fiction that doesn’t use disability as a shorthand for character traits or group identity or treat it as something to be cured and which is set in a future that sees and accommodates disabilities. If you’re a writer, I strongly encourage you to play. Even if you don’t win, you’ll come away with a story that will do someone some good.

Off to go plot.

The Christian Colonies

My favorite dead relatives, however, are the ones who were kicked out of the Colony of Massachusetts for being the wrong kind of Puritan, which means, as long as we’re clearing up matters of religious misconception, pure in matters of doctrine, not without sin. They’d come to the colonies, as many had, because they couldn’t practice their brand of religion in a land where the state was the head of the church. What they found (or perhaps helped to found, as the records aren’t very clear) was a colony where the church was the head of the state, just as many would like the situation to be today.

There’s no doubt that some of the colonies were founded as Christian settlements. Does that mean the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation? Find out at Quiche Moraine.

Reconstructing Criticism: Collegiality

“Because I said so” may be four of the most satisfying words in the English language. Unfortunately, they are almost exactly the wrong thing to say, or even imply, when delivering constructive criticism.

It isn’t that a person in a position of authority can’t deliver constructive criticism. They can and do frequently, since human resources management is the largest group to have embraced its utility. That doesn’t there aren’t problems that lie in combining the weight of authority with the criticism.

The first problem is that authority is all too often associated with punishment, which makes it much harder for recipients of criticism to hear it correctly. Listening or reading attentively is incompatible with wondering how much trouble is on its way and incompatible with a fight-or-flight response to fear. Setting aside this aspect of authority up front (“No, you’re not in trouble”) allows the message itself to come across more clearly.

Someone else’s authority is also not a good motivator under your average low-stakes situation. In high-stakes, strong-threat situations, yes, but those don’t generally involve constructive criticism. Under normal circumstances, people’s internal motivations are much stronger than outside authority, particularly in the long term and particularly in the immediate absence of that authority. Invoking internal motivations, showing people why change is needed rather than leaning on authority, is much more likely to effect lasting changes.

Closely related to that is the problem of defiance. Constructive criticism is that which builds the criticized party up, not tears them down. Criticism that relies on authority reinforces the recipient’s subordinate position. Who wants to be on the receiving end of that? And we don’t have to. Playgrounds have long taught us that the proper response to “Because I said so” is “Make me.” That simple retort undermines an adult in an actual position of authority almost as well as it does a bossy kid, setting up a power struggle in which the recipient of the criticism loses by making the desired change.

So you’re a person with some authority who wants to deliver constructive criticism. How do you do it? Focus on the reasons for change without being one of them. Yes, that is harder than it sounds. You can point to shared goals, but you’re better off pointing to the individual’s goals, since supporting your goals supports your authority. You can listen more than you talk, particularly about why the current state of things exists. You can enlist the recipient of the criticism in making a plan for change. You can have the discussion in their space instead of yours. You can do almost anything sincere to level the power dynamic between you and make you peers for the purposes of the criticism.

The one thing you absolutely can’t do, of course, is lean on “Because I said so” to do the work for you.