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Telethons and Pity (Repost)

Posted Sep 01 2008 7:14pm
This is a reposting of last Labor Day Weekend's post on pity. the post is just as applicable this year, as is the blogswarm.

Today is Labor Day, and, to many people, that means it’s time for Jerry Lewis and the MDA Telethon. I had never watched the telethon, and this year I checked it out for the first time. I have to say, I didn’t watch much of it, and it was enough. I am not going to comment on the mission of the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA); I am not familiar it. However, I would like to comment on the destructiveness of pity.

1. Pity fosters negativity. The negative aspects of the condition are emphasized and magnified, rather then the positive aspects and enormous potential of the individual's life. Instead of focusing on what a person can do by embracing all their strengths and gifts, pity limits a person.

2. Pity promotes the view of charity rather than the view of inclusion. Charity for pity divides people into 2 groups, the “haves” and the “have nots”. The premise is that the person who “has” will help the person who “does not have,” because the “haves” feel sorry for the “have nots”, rather than because it is the morally appropriate action to do. Unlike pity, inclusion encourages respectful dialogue to discuss ways to adapt to the obstacles of society.

3. Charity often seems focused on making those that contribute to the charity feel warm-and-fuzzy-good about themselves. That is the wrong focus. An action should be taken because it is the right thing to do, because it is fair and just.

4. Although often without consciously recognizing it, the person who is pitied usually has to conform in some way to the giver’s expectations and stereotypes to receive the charity. For example, in extracurricular activities in school, it seems to me that children with disabilities often have to participate in the sport or activity that has the most willing coach or advisor, rather than in the activity that the child likes the best or has a natural affinity for.

5. Pity lowers an individual’s self-esteem. It’s hard to feel good about yourself, when you are seen as a drain and burden on others.

6. Pity towards people with disabilities gives society the false impression that disability and happiness cannot coexist. That isn’t necessarily true, and that simply serves to cause more pity.

7. Another problem with charity for pity is that it can give the impression that once the charitable act has been done, societal responsibilities are finished. A corporation that publicly writes a check to MDA is still obligated to provide an inclusive work environment with fair opportunities even though they likely won’t receive public recognition for those actions.

Check out Protest Pity, The Blog Against the Telethon, for an excellent collection of thought-provoking posts about the telethon from the point of view of people with disabilities.
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