Often times I am struck that many people say we need to think in circular and non-linear ways, yet they do not really know what this means beyond rhetoric and in concrete ways. When they encounter paradox often times these same people fall into the trap and limitations of linear thinking.
As I have said before, all entities, such as human states of being, words, concepts, constructs, models, and theories, are best thought of as a paradox.
One such example is the phenomenon of living with a disability. For many reasons I don’t like the term disability. Really I do not. Yet I use the term and will continue to use it. I find that when I use the term people doubt that I have a disability simply because they cannot see it in an explicit sense. In this way they allow the eyes to appropriate reality. I also find people don’t like my use of the term because they assume I am asking for their pity and/or making an excuse for not being able to do something.
Although I recognize that I do have a disability, thinking in a circular way that I do I also recognize the paradox of it, that being that my disability can also be perceived and valued as a gift. What I mean by this is that sitting on the margins of society as I do, I am able to “see” things that other people cannot see. As an example, my limited vision has shaped my critical thinking skills to fine precision. It is in this way that many people assume that I have not done the critical thinking needed to understand who I am and what I can do beyond my disability. This is categorically wrong! Of course I have.
Regardless of this gift I embrace the term disability because in my daily living I am faced with many barriers. I find stairways difficult, and reading and writing are a particular pain. My lack of normal vision and all that is inherent prevents me from doing many things that other people can do with ease. My lack of normal vision also requires me to work harder to complete certain tasks. Tasks take more energy, time, and expenses for adaptive equipment for example.
I have found that Elders and scholars have been particularly critical when I use the term disability. Elders assume that I do not value the traditional teaching that all people are born with gifts, and they then judge me in overly harsh ways. I have found these Elder assumptions perplexing, disenfranchising, and annoying to say the least. The gift of this experience, though, is that I have come to learn that Elders are not the all knowers they are touted to be. Elders too are a paradox. No entity is immune from the need to value circular thinking.
It concerned me when I learned that Oscar Pistorious, the Blade Runner, was dismissive about issues of disability and/or minimizing the reality of disability offering statements and arguments that were not rooted in critical thinking or any understanding of the two prevailing models of disability: the medical and the social model. Nor was he qualifying his comments as being limited by his reality and limited by the very goals he had in mind. He was not thinking and not talking about issues of disability in a way that represented many of the issues associated. In fact in some ways I felt he was engaging in a form of “disability porn”, the kind that Stella Young has discussed in her TEDX talk. I felt he was doing people with disabilities an incredible disservice, while fulfilling society’s insatiable need for fantasy and a happy story. It was clear to me that his approach of linear thinking was masking the many realities of disabilities/abilities.
I was also concerned that he was representing issues of disability in a way that were not cognizant of issues of intersectional oppression. What I mean by this is that a “white” man with a disability has no experience or knowledge about what it is like to live as a woman of colour with a disability. Most people know by now, except maybe Oscar Pistorius, that adding more layers of structural oppression to a person’s lived experience makes life exponentially more difficult. Oscar Pistorious is not the expert people should be listening to and learning from regarding the topic of disability/abilities.
With this stated Oscar Pistorius’ use of his disability in his defence of the shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp is interesting to reflect on. It seems he has now moved out of his narrow-mined linear cognitive approach to understanding issues of disabilities and is now more fully embracing the paradox of the entity. I can only think it is too bad that it appears that he is spinning, as spin doctors do, the paradox of an entity – in this case disability – when it works for him.
Note: I really don't care too much if you find a spelling, grammar, or sentence structure issue in this blog. Critical thinking requires us to move beyond barriers in real concrete ways.
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Lynn Gehl is an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe from the Ottawa River Valley. She has a section 15 Charter challenge regarding the continued sex discrimination in The Indian Act, and is an outspoken critic of the Ontario Algonquin land claims and self-government process. She has three books: Anishinaabeg Stories: Featuring Petroglyphs, Petrographs, and Wampum Belts, The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin of the Algonquin Land Claims Process, and Mkadengwe: Sharing Canada's Colonial Process through Black Face Methodology. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and see more of her work at www.lynngehl.com.