Last week was tumultuous for me.
Nathan’s image went viral on Facebook, prompting friends and strangers alike to say wonderful things about him and my family, and to share it with their friends. Unfortunately, not all comments were kind. In fact, some of them were downright vicious. Several people reached out to me to ask how I was handling it all.
I was surprised at myself, to be honest. Many times I’ve read the horrible things that people have said about other people with disabilities and my blood has boiled. I wanted to smack them across the face – beat them until they realized the value of every person. I imagined that if someone ever said those things about MY child, that I would be a hot mess.
But when it happened, it only strengthened my resolve.
Recently, I stumbled across an old post by Jennifer Fulwiler. She includes a video about a group of smiling colleagues, enjoying a retreat at their place of business – Auschwitz concentration camp. In it, she talks about how she once considered herself a “good person” and people like the Auschwitz men and women “bad people.” She writes:
Back in my college days…I would have thought of myself as fundamentally different than the people in those photos. They were bad people; I was a good person. Now I see that, frighteningly, there is no ontological difference between me and the smiling employees in that Auschwitz photo; the difference is nothing more or less than the stories we tell ourselves about what was going on in the background.
Most, if not all, of those people thought they were good people. Their work was justified – even if they believed killing was morally wrong – by believing the messages they were told: that the Jews were “bad people.” If they’d had friends behind the walls who were about to be executed, they may have felt differently. But the hordes of Jews in Auschwitz weren’t individuals with whom they’d shared coffee and their most intimate secrets – they were The Enemy, so they had to be destroyed.
We may not have concentration camps, but we see people working to Destroy The Enemy every day.
I saw it in the outrageous outrage in the comments on Mothering’s Facebook page. In some places, it was a virtual screaming match between people who assume all pro-lifers are religious zealots bent on enslaving women and others who think all pro-choicers are murderers lacking any morals.
In their quest to claim victory, the virtual screamers saw only “good people” and “bad people.” They failed to realize that a third group exists – invisible people. What I wondered, as I read some of the comments, is if there were women reading who had chosen to abort their child with Down syndrome – women who may now regret their decision, and who may have been deeply hurt by the comments. The IDSC for Life regularly hears from women like that, so it’s possible.
Did these virtual screamers ever considered that the child in the photo is a real person, with a real family, who could be hurt by what they said? My guess is that if they thought of it at all, they probably didn’t care. It was much more important to them to Destroy the Enemy. And to them I say:
Trampling individuals in the name of your principles devalues the very principles you wish to promote.
The bad things people said about Nathan and my family could have been much worse, to be sure. In contrast to one “that baby’s f’ing ugly” comment, there were dozens more stating how beautiful he is, and those that tried to claim Nathan was being “exploited” were outnumbered by many of my friends, family members, and blogosphere acquaintances who sang the praises of Nathan, my family, and even me personally (Thank you!)
Providentially, Jeff Goins published a post last week about criticism, and in it he encouraged his followers to “stop listening to people who aren’t saying anything.” His advice didn’t change how I responded to last week’s events, as I had already chosen to engage only those people who seemed reasonable (Tip: starting a conversation with “F— you” is not going to elicit a response from me), but it was a helpful reminder that there was no reason to be upset, because those people don’t know Nathan and were saying nothing about him (not the real him, anyway).
I’ve known ever since my blog started gaining readers outside my circle of family and friends that there would likely come a day when something like this would happen. It would be very easy to take my blog private and hide from the ugliness. But many of you have contacted me to tell me that my little corner of the interwebs has helped you, or brightened your day, or – and this part is crucial – changed how you view people with disabilities.
With rare exception, people can’t be neatly tagged as “good” or “bad” – we lie on a spectrum between the two, and we are capable of moving along that spectrum in either direction. I can’t control where any one person or group of person falls.