If I had a nickel for every time someone told me I was an inspiration, I’d have at least $1.35. It may sound like I’m bragging, but if you ask S.E. Smith, a visually impaired blogger and author of this post, to be labeled an “inspiration” is more than a little degrading. Here are a couple quotes to sum up her message:
But with the increased visibility of disabled people doing things, my heart also grew heavy with worry. Because any time we do things, you know, people have to say things about it, and those things are usually about how “inspiring” we are. How we’ve “overcome so much.” How we’re “giving it our all.” We’re just so “moving” and “uplifting” and “amazing” to see. A lot of the language used about us is itself disabling; “wheelchair bound,” “suffers from.”
Nondisabled people don’t seem to understand how frustrating and damaging this language is, the heavy burden it creates for us in our interactions with society. They seem to be under the impression that this kind of objectification improves our lot in life, or gives us a reason to live; we may not amount to much, but at least we can be inspiring, you know. We’re making such great accomplishments simply by being alive.
I must admit, part of me agrees. And much of the feedback I’ve seen from other people with disabilities is also in agreement with this author. It’s taken me many years to learn how to accept “You’re an inspiration!” with grace. But why would it take grace? Why wouldn’t I just feel uplifted instead of uncomfortable?
It does feel strange to be held in such high esteem for my ability to eat. My ability to drive. My ability to do the same things everyone else does. Imagine someone staring in wonder as you blow your nose. That’s about how it feels. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m feeling objectified… It just feels bizarre.
On the other hand, grace allows me to acknowledge that this bizarre situation comes from a place of kindness. Of goodwill. Someone who gives me an “atta girl” is doing so out of a desire to speak goodness. If something I do brings goodness out of someone else, who am I to turn that down?
In that moment, as the lady behind me at the checkout is so inspired by my swiping a debit card, her words of encouragement don’t cause me to remember how awesome I am. They don’t make me feel small or degraded. She reminds me of how good my God is. She reminds me that God is using me, speaking through my life, at moments I least expect it… Moments I least deserve it.
She reminds me that I am a light.
Maybe you aren’t so privileged to have regular reminders that you are influencing, changing lives around you, with every breath. Maybe you aren’t so blessed as I am to be made very aware that you’re watched every moment, and that the things you say, your attitude, your responses, matter. They matter a lot. Maybe you don’t see it, but you are light.
So go ahead, be inspired by the way I “overcome” a fork and spoon. Let me remember that I matter to someone, that I brightened your day. And while I may not agree with you about what’s worth praising in my life, it’s the praise I receive undeservedly that keeps me humble and thanking God. I am, after all, often on the receiving end of negativity for many of these same things. I deserve neither credit nor punishment for any of it, but I receive both. So when the positive comes my way, I will take it with a smile, and remember that God is in it. God is in me, and I forward all the credit to Him.