Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Not Like Me, I Presume

In a Jesuit school, my husband was taught “Assumptions make an ass out of u (you) and me.” History is rife with them—assuming the world is flat because you can’t see beyond the horizon, assuming harmful events must be the fault of a witch, assuming whatever is different is wrong. Assumptions have slowed the progress of science because they creep into what we believe is a “given,” thus skewing results in favor of old beliefs. They flow into education and religion designed to preserve traditions rather than truth. They manipulate shoppers who can be fooled into thinking anything that costs more is better and advertisements are strictly informational. However, assumptions are arguably most harmful when they target people.

A friend gifted me with the wonderful UK book SKALLAGRIGG by William Horwood several months ago, and I finally set aside the time to read it. I nearly didn’t. The book follows characters who are stricken with cerebral palsy (herein called “spastics”), beginning in 1927 in an institution that takes the descriptive term “Draconian” to a darker, lower level. If I could’ve believed the author was taking dramatic license with what happened in such facilities there or even here in the United States at that time, I would’ve been cheered. In contrast, I think he did excellent research about reality. Happily for me, the book progresses to a brighter future for another person with CP whose experiences are less horrific if still not anything you would wish on a loved one. The read was a sobering, enlightening glimpse into lives far different from my own simply because the people depicted cannot control their physical bodies.

Arthur, the original character in SKALLAGRIGG, is exceedingly bright. He must use his memory and imagination to survive treatment he cannot influence. He shares his hope with others who suffer various disabilities using communication that reaches far beyond him in space and time. Why is he so badly abused? He is assumed to be utterly unintelligent—an idiot, because he cannot speak as others do, and the one caregiver who suspects his awareness uses it to torture him. Does being without intelligence make a person nonhuman? We make many assumptions about what comprises a human. Some would say maleness should be dominant. Some would say culture and race affect value. Some insist that alternative genders are abominations.

Many years ago, I was persuaded to memorize “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. That I can still recite parts of it is a statement about its impact: “He prayeth best who loveth best/ All things both great and small/ For the dear God who loveth us,/ He made and loveth all.” That people who claim to be religious can accept that God made mistakes so we have members who are not worthy of love and care astounds me. Religions are easily distorted.

Recently, a dear friend told me her daughter instructed her to stay away from her teenaged grandchildren because she’s a bad influence. Does she use drugs? Excessive alcohol? Filthy language or illegal gambling? Does she urge her grandchildren to be like her? No on all counts. She’s someone who has spent her life enriching the lives of others, donating time and resources. I would trust her with my life. Her crime is being a lesbian. Not contagious. Not uncommon. But, under the influence of prejudiced church leaders and governmental role models who prefer child molesters and criminals to good people of alternative sexual lifestyles, her daughter pronounced her edict.

Make no mistake. Bad assumptions kill. Some young person is committing suicide right now because that person has been convinced worth is tied to social popularity. Author Merle Miller quotes E. M. Forster (author of HOWARD’S END) in his book ON BEING DIFFERENT: “I believe in aristocracy…Not an aristocracy of power, based on rank and influence, but an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate, and the plucky.” Anyone who belongs to that aristocracy makes my world better, regardless of the assumptions people make.

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