Today, a friend of mine posted a video of children and adults with severe intellectual disabilities engaging in a Special Poetry Slam, a simplified slam poetry event in which they took turns performing a single line of poetry. For them, this was a very difficult thing to do, but they pulled it off marvelously. My friend’s response was not admiration for their courage, however, but jeering, sneering laughter.
I told him how I felt about the video, mentioning how I had studied some of the cases of children with intellectual disabilities in my Exceptional Students class at McGill. In the case of people with very severe intellectual disabilities, it takes weeks of training to teach them basic words, let alone to be able to say a full sentence. I told him how much of a long struggle these people had to go through just to be able to utter a single unclear sentence. I expressed how I have a great deal of respect for them and the educators who work with them.
Matt replied that “I do wholeheartedly agree on anything that is uploaded to the interwebz is free game. If you think there is a reason to upload that shit other than for lulz, you’re insane.”
I responded that “There is a reason: to see the remarkable advances that people with severe intellectual disabilities can make from not being able to utter a word to being able to speak whole sentences.
I responded matter of factly; “I am indeed a “moralfag;” I am an ethical philosopher trained in the academic study of ethics. I am also a teacher of Secondary Ethics and Religious Culture. And I actually care about people and believe that their suffering deserves compassion, not sneering laughter.
You may want to consider getting your moral qualities from somewhere besides 4chan. I’m happy, at least, that Hayden will get to benefit from Lindsay’s values, which I hope will compensate for 4chan’s as embodied in you.”
Matt said that I had “made this no more fun Adam. I will retreat to my corner now.”
“Good,” I said, “I hope you do some thinking about what matters most in life while you’re there. Think about the qualities you want your daughter to have. You don’t want to raise her to be another stupid, apathetic 4chan moron. She is a beautiful kid with a ton of imagination and deserves to see compassion and care modeled by her father. You have the power to do that.
Put yourself in the shoes of these people with intellectual disabilities for a moment. Consider what it must be like to have a body that is ugly and deformed by the standards of the society you live in, to feel totally outcast, to feel unable to even speak and frustrated that you can’t put words to your own confused feelings. And then consider the people who are willing to spend weeks working with you to help you get just that little bit better. And not only that, but they set up an event where you can actually feel important, share your ability to say a single sentence. It may not look like much to others, but to you, that means the whole world. That is a crowning achievement for you.
And that is why these people deserve our care and admiration for their courage and not our sneering laughter.”