Here I sit, thoughts bouncing off of each other, all trying to get to my fingertips. Yesterday I read two articles. The first, a commentary about free speech and why it’s okay that Nazi’s spew hatred and the second about the nearly total eradication of individuals with Down Syndrome in Iceland. Down Syndrome is a naturally occurring genetic anomaly that occurs, typically, 1 – 10,000 live births without respect to age, race, religion, employment status, preference of ice cream flavor… there are paintings of people with Down’s from the Renaissance and more recently, of my daughter 3 days ago on my Facebook page. In Iceland, that rate is now approximately 2 – 3 births with Down Syndrome annually. You read that correctly… fewer than 5 per year. But what are they eradicating? And what get eradicated next? You can read that article here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/down-syndrome-iceland/
Here is where my brain starts to send wild, chaotic laser blasts. In Iceland, it’s no longer an individual decision whether or not to carry a baby to term with DS, it is a societal one. Let me explain. People are largely sheep. Sheep are wonderful, friendly animals that spend most of their days eating and minding their own business. Sure, they get annoyed when they are sheered but they pretty much just go back into the herd and move on. Most people are like that. You never see a sheep rise up and defy the sheers. People do, sometimes, rise up. The circumstances that lead to an uprising are typically pretty dire. If one sheep is spooked, the entire herd bolts. If that one sheep is left in the pasture, it is at its own peril. Most likely, it’s dinner for someone.
The recent events in Charlotte bring this mentality clearly into focus. There are resisters of abject hate for fellow human beings. Not intolerance. Intolerance can be overcome. This is a desire and, judging from the weapons and shields they were carrying, a genuine desire to eliminate, to kill other people. People they don’t know. People who have little or no impact or influence in their day to day lives. And when peaceful protesters came and voiced the counter perspective, that we could accept and love one another, violence ensued. Now the fun part. Reading the many posts on Facebook of people saying, “Why can’t we all just compromise?” or “It’s free speech and they had a permit.”
Now, the way I see it, when we decide that it’s better to just stay out of it, let it go, ignore it, then we have condoned it. I know this is true because when I was in the 5th grade, a young girl in my class, who I know now, of course, had a developmental disability, was being called RETARD and REJECT and lots of other horrible things pretty much every single day, my parents sat me down and said, in no uncertain terms, “What did YOU say?” and followed with, “And what did you DO?” and finally, “She needs a friend. You need to be that friend.” Now, through the years they also told me that I always had a heart for “strays and stragglers” but largely, I think, they put that there. I wasn’t always brave enough to say what needed to be said. I wasn’t always kind enough to be the person I should have been, and I took a lot of flack from other kids- and I have some regrets. If the me now could tell that 5th grader one thing, it’s “SO WHAT?? They don’t get to tell you who you are going to be or who you are going to be friends with.”
Since I can’t travel back in time, instead I told my own children. ADVOCATE. You WILL get your feelings hurt. You WILL have to go outside of your comfort zone. You WILL have to feel isolated from time to time but you will also attract the right friends. The ones who value your integrity. The ones who support your efforts to make the world better. I have some flippin’ amazing kids who don’t back down. Maybe it’s Down Syndrome testing, or LGBTQ rights, or Black Lives Matter or Elder Abuse, or Women’s Issues, or the Environment or for crying out loud- CARE ABOUT SOMETHING. Because if you don’t care enough, pretty soon we have 100% eridacation of a group of people. Maybe it’s babies with Down Syndrome or maybe it’s Jews, LGBTQ, or Blacks for people who like peanut butter… what difference does it make? It’s wrong.
Maybe we aren’t standing in the literal crowd that gets plowed by a car, but we are certainly standing in the figurative one. Where is our line? What do we stand for? In Iceland, the norm is to abort a child with Down Syndrome. Society there no longer supports the reality that these people aren’t a burden. Read this article and listen to this 17 year old speak to the UN and you will see that she’s got more guts, more drive, more passion, and more honesty than most people can muster. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-4461286/Student-Syndrome-delivers-speech-UN.html
I look at my daughter, her friends and the countless families and individuals I’ve come across in the past 24 years in the community, and I can tell you that the world is richer because of them. It isn’t easier, but easier isn’t better. Kinder is better. More patient is better. Funnier is better. Not holding a grudge is better. Not pre-judging anyone is better Trusting is better. But my daughter isn’t growing up in that world. She’s growing up in a world where people with torches can storm a town square and be defended by the “leader” of a country who is supposed to be PROTECTING her. I can not, WILL not be passive. I will push the boundries of my comfort zone.
My line? I draw the line at people- “good people” spewing their hated. It’s not “political correctness,” it’s common courtesy. I will tell you a short story. My 15 year old roller skates. She’s on a derby team. (She’s pretty badass, actually) She skates several times a week. I have always been friendly with the rink manager. On his FB page, he posted a rant about “LIBTARDS.” Well, we all know that you don’t have to agree with the opposite policatal party, but he just went against my 5th grade sense of justice. So I politely explained why this was offensive. I was immediately berated and viciosuly attacked by others under this thread because I was attempting to curtail his free speech. Nope, I was calling out ignorance, bigotry and small minded thinking by a person who my daughter looks up to. He did not change the post, and you are right, he didn’t have to. But, he also didn’t defend my point of view. He condoned people telling me that I was an over sensitive so and so. He never apologized to me online or in person, but rather, like a sheep, just left it there. Followed the herd. That tells me exactly what he thinks. My dad told me many years ago, “When a person tells you who they really are, believe them.” Now I know. Now I understand. Still think he’s a decent guy doing right by the community by giving kids a place to skate. Still think he posts some funny stuff on Facebook. Still interact with him when I see him.
Now my daughter needs new skates. I am driving to Ohio to get them from another rink. Not because I am spiteful, although it may be perceived that way, and frankly, I can’t help what others think. I have to send my daughter to this rink to skate because that’s where her team is. It’s like going to work, you might not like your boss, but that’s where your job is. But if overtime isn’t mandatory, you don’t have to go in on a weekend. I don’t have to put any extra money there. It is a small thing, I realize. Maybe it doesn’t even matter to him, but it matters to me. He probably doesn’t even realize the impact that “converstation” on Facebook had on me. I do not wish to be part of the society that just “gets over it.” I want to be like the woman in the article with a child with Down Syndrome in Iceland that KNOWS people don’t get it and that teaches and advocates anyway. Sometimes standing up for what you believe is huge and sometimes it’s as small as a short drive to another venue.
So here is my PLEDGE.
I WILLNOT BE PASSIVE. I might not be able to go to a rally. But I can write a letter.
I WILL CALL IT OUT. When I hear someone use a slur or tell a hurtful joke or put someone down who is simply who they are- I will stand up and be counted.
I WILL ALLOW MYSELF TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE. I might have to drive further or pay a little more but I will not support people who knowing hurt others through their words or actions and do not accept responsibility when it is pointed out.
I WILL WORK TOWARD KINDNESS. I fail at this every day. Sometimes I gossip, sometimes I say hurtful things. I will apologize. I will try to do better.
I WILL NOT GIVE UP.