It was (somewhat rightly) overshadowed by Sandy Hook, but last week’s news also carried (yet again) a story about airline mistreatment. As related in several sources, including http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2012/12/13/marine-double-amputee-gets-help-from-fellow-vets-angered-by-delta-airlines-treatment/, a veteran and double amputee was assigned to the back row of seats on a plane, placed in an infamous aviation wheelchair which bumped and banged through the plane. This, despite some passengers in the front section offering to switch seats, an offer which was coldly refused by the crew.
The airline’s response was predictable: an apology and claim that it was not typical, with a promise to “make it right” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2012/12/15/delta-airlines-admits-we-failed-double-amputee-marine-on-recent-flight-vows-to-make-it-right/).
Perhaps, someday, the airlines will get over their cluelessness. As anyone with a disability who has ever flown can guess, it didn’t take long to find an article from 2008 that told similar stories—and a similar promise to do things right in the future: http://www.usatoday.com/travel/flights/2008-03-12-wheelchair-travel_N.htm.
And, perhaps, someday, society as a whole will get over its own cluelessness. In the wake of Sandy Hook, there’s been yet another round of misinformation about disabilities, and mental health in particular. Although quickly removed, a Facebook page, “Aspergers Prevention Campaign: Stop the slayings” promised to “find an Autistic kid and set it on fire” after receiving 50 likes (a copy of the page can be seen at http://www.disabilityandrepresentation.com/2012/12/26/scapegoating-in-the-aftermath-of-the-sandy-hook-shooting/). Whatever you may think of the National Rifle Association’s proposal, and of gun control in general, their statement that characterized those with mental illness as “genuine monsters—people so deranged, so evil, so possessed . . . by demons” was out of line and strikes of the worst of medieval thinking. (The full text of the statement is available at http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/full-text-nra-remarks-gun-control-debate-newtown-article-1.1225043). As many responsible professionals have stated, there is no evidence that these conditions make one more prone to violence. But it’s much easier to blame “the other,” as societies have done throughout history, than to admit to their own faults that touch everyone.
We have already seen the protests that it isn’t typical. Will it end with yet another ignored promise to do better? Will we work harder to understand where it comes from? Violence is any attempt to force our will on others. Whether it’s done with a gun, a neighborhood association that considers the color of someone’s mailbox to be a matter requiring intervention, a blocked ramp or power door, or scheming to gain while others go hungry—it’s violence. Until we admit the prevalence of violence in many forms throughout our culture, we won’t get far with any of these efforts.
Wisdom is timeless and reaches across all boundaries. Just days after we observe the birth of the “Prince of Peace,” acknowledged by religions across the world as a wise teacher, we would do well to remember the message near the end of his life that those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. We can take that to absurd literalness and say we don’t use swords these days, or we can understand the principle: how you live and what you seek is what shapes your life. With a new year and its resolutions coming up, will it be another empty promise or not?