I have been considered physically challenged since I was born. No, even before that, technically. In the past almost-23 years of my life, I have had the unique advantage of observing people like me. And today, I came to a startling conclusion.
It should come as no surprise to you that people who are physically challenged are often treated differently than other people. It’s a harsh reality, but I guess that’s just how it is. But the fact of the matter is that we no longer live in the treacherous period of time during which the physically challenged were considered “invalids,” and were hence kept locked away in their homes. Today, the physically and mentally challenged are viewed by many as capable individuals who take on challenging and rewarding jobs.
But, in spite of these changes, much of the same narrow mentality remains. Even though the physically challenged now have their own restroom stalls in public buildings, their own parking spaces, and often, their own entrances and exits to buildings, we continue to be overlooked– or even worse, singled out. As adaptive beings (see Darwin, I suppose), we have the natural instinct or tendency to do whatever it takes to adjust to our specific situations. The Western society, in particular, is an individualistic culture that focuses on the self, rather than the common good.
What many people fail to understand is that we, the physically challenged, focus on the self, as well. So, given our bruised past as outcasts in society, we tend to overcompensate for this social discrepancy by adopting a deep sense of entitlement.
Think about it. In the U.S., plenty of business is given to restaurants, hotels, and venues where people pay top-dollar to feel exclusive. The line of thinking is, “I can afford this, when other people can’t.” The exact same mentality applies to abilities. I personally delight in writing a solid essay, but I’ll admit that part of that enjoyment is due to my understanding that not everyone possesses this innate literary ability!
So, going back to the “privileges” that have been set aside for the physically challenged, this false, adaptive sense of entitlement is what causes us to react negatively when someone unjustly occupies the handicapped stall, or parks in front of a ramp, and so on, and so forth.
It’s not so much that we genuinely feel that we are better than everyone else; rather, it’s that, in order to cope and to function properly, we must believe that we are. And why shouldn’t the physically challenged have the right to an ego, when everything about our 21st-century culture tells us we need to have one?
The truth is, when it comes to “exclusivity,” everyone wants to be the only one “let in,” but no one wants to be the only one “left out.” As a result, our naturally defensive nature drives us to seek situations in which we feel the so-called “able-bodied” people are wrong, so that they, in turn, can feel what it’s like to be singled out; to be left out.
I hope your heads aren’t exploding by now.