Last night, during dinner after the Canadian Laughing Championships, a lady asked me a question that I get asked often. She has a relative who is losing their sight and wanted advice on how she could help them.
After reflecting on my improvised answer, I realized that I had articulated four distinct ways in which people try to help others with disabilities (some much more effective than others). With the current devastation happening in the Philippines, these distinctions can actually be helpful to anyone who is going through a difficult situation.
1. Having Pity
Doesn’t it suck to have a disability? The news about the people in the Philippines is heart-breaking. While feeling sorry for others doesn’t really do anything for them, it is far better than those people who choose to ignore and/or suppress their humanity.
Pity may have a derogatory connotation, but at least it is acknowledgement of what is. That consciousness does make a difference, if only at an energetic level. I’m not suggesting that this is a great place to stay, but it can be an easy place to start for some people.
2. Fixing the Problem
This is the default for most people. Because they do not want to feel pity, they try to avoid that pain by either blaming an external factor for the cause, or finding a quick solution that they think is common sense.
“The authorities should have given more warning of the storm, and people should have evacuated sooner” is some people’s idea of a fix. Do you know how many times people have suggested that I wear a hat to avoid eye-strain, or to wear sunscreen to avoid sunburn (due to my albinism)? Life isn’t that simple – Solutions to real problems are much more complicated than even “The Secret”.
3. Compensating for the Problem
Charity, volunteerism, and education are all methods of compensating for the difficult situations people may find themselves in. This is usually the most practical and pragmatic form of making a significant difference.
When some people find out that I can’t legally drive, they immediately try “fix/dismiss” the problem by suggesting that I will simply need to hire a chauffeur to drive me around everywhere... The amount of money required to make that happen is pretty ridiculous (albeit it’s still a goal). Much more impactful than that however, is one of my best friends who picks me up and drops me off to my front door, 95% of the times that we go out partying.
4. Empathizing with the Person
This is the most profound way to make a difference for people. Relationship psychology asserts that men shouldn’t try to solve the problems of their female partner, but rather listen, acknowledge, and empathize with where she is. I believe this is true for all people, especially for those with disabilities or those going through challenging life circumstances.
Empathizing can be confused with pity, but they are really different (pity is passive, empathy is proactive). People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. Ask them questions. Get into their world with an authentic conversation. Take on the feelings that they have in order to experience life in their shoes.
It may not be possible to talk to people in the Philippines, but maybe there are people from the Philippines that you may know in your local community? You may not know someone with a disability, but may walk by some homeless people every day who are disabled.
As usual, it all comes down to connecting and sharing. Who in your life is going through a difficult situation? Feel some empathy with them through your manifestation of love.
Let’s love the world together...
[)anish /|hmed, blind visionary
P.S. Check out this video about our Party for People with Special Needs and consider contributing.