Thursday, March 25, 2010

It was self defense

A man on the ground holds a sign declaring that he has Parkinson's. Able-bodied men, who tower over him, angrily mock his disability, Why do these healthy people waste their energy on someone who can obviously do them no harm?

Because they fear him. They see in his stricken body what likely will be their own fate. Sooner or later we are all going to lose the vigor of the young and the steady vitality of middle age. We will be either ruined by advancing years and their inevitable companion disease, or snatched away by sickness or mishap before we are ready. No one gets out of here alive and few get out gracefully.

This man on the ground is a reminder of that. These bullies want no reminder of human frailty, because they share it. They believe that by mocking him they can show how separate they are from him, how strong. But what they are separating themselves from is their own humanity.

Many things distinguish us from the animals. From our capacity (and, as Mark Twain noted, our need) to blush, to our appreciation of music. But nothing comes close to what living together and taking care of each other does to soften the blows of our uncaring Universe and mark us as unique. As a species we excel at taking care of each other. We are so good at taking care of ourselves, we even have time to make other species lives better. Ask your dog.

It is in coming together, in backing up one another, that we find our real strength. Even the bullies agree. Go back and look at the video. It takes a crowd of healthy people to deal with one man cut down by Parkinson's Disease


jamie said...

Even though I’d previously seen this: your post is poignant because it reminded me that these issues aren’t ever as anonymous or isolated as the internet makes it: personally knowing someone with a vested interest in educating and spreading awareness puts a real face on understanding it.

A diary was just posted over on Daily Kos re: linking a CBS story about one of the participants depicted in the protest, who in retrospect now apparently has some sincere regrets about his behavior:

"He's got every right to do what he did and some may say I did too, but what I did was shameful," Reichert said. "I haven't slept since that day." ... "I wanted this to go away, but it won't and I'm paying the consequences," Reichert said.

So the widespread public exposure was a factor in this change of heart, but I suspect there’s also some degree of fear from the backlash that’s helped open his eyes – probably moreso than the newly discovered empathy with fellow human beings.

Personally I’ve sometimes second-guessed occasional editorial panels by thinking that it’s not contributing anything; worry that it’s participating, perpetuating and even escalating the general negative tone; and in fact may be hastening the race to the bottom of civil discourse - effectively negating any opportunity for making a positive change. I’m still trying to find that balance between thoughtful introspection and poo-flinging from the sidelines.

Then again, every so often (as in this instance), I’m reminded of just how powerful a tool open mockery and shame can be.
But this assumes the folks being make fun of even possess enough of a conscience to maybe doubt themselves for a minute, let alone humble themselves into admitting they were wrong.

Peter Dunlap-Shohl said...

Hi Jamie,

Thanks for your thoughtful post, it really is a potent incident, and you bring out a number of threads that are interesting and troubling.

Just to confine myself to your comment about editorial cartoons, they've been around since long before the current coarsening of the culture. To borrow an argument from the NRA, it's not the cartoon that is the problem, it's where you point it and whom you point it at.

Cartoons could coarsen the culture if deployed coarsely. (my guess is that they reflect cultural coarsening more than they lead it.) Well thought-out, sharp cartoons will probably sharpen the debate. The distance between the two is equal to the distance between, say the work of Sean Delonas and the work of Clay Bennett.

Parky Bill said...

This gentleman was just as brave as the iconic figure who stood in front of the column of tanks in Beijing. He is emblematic of the bravery it takes to just get out of bed some days when you have PD.

Peter Dunlap-Shohl said...

Hi Bill,
Rosa Parks might make a good comparison as well. Just too tired to argue any more she put her self in harm's way. All three showed eloquence comes in physical acts as well as speech.
One ironic difference. This man was threatened not by his government, but by fellow citizens.

Glad you're up and out of bed,