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Tone Deaf: Finding Ways to Honor the Dead and the Living

August 13, 2010

This isn’t a topic to be snarky about. It isn’t. Gods, and we should try to avoid being holier-than-thou about it, too.

It’s a serious matter, as on it rests the heartbreak of far too many families. I think it is important to see this heartache within the larger context of the larger society, and to place it in perspective, so when certain places have used the tragic deaths of children or adults on the spectrum to push their own agendas, I’ve tried in previous posts to tie those death to the larger population.

I am not philosophically opposed to a site that is a compassionate tribute to those who have lost their lives. There are many such sites out there and they can and do serve valuable purposes in allowing families to offer tribute to their lost loved ones, for readers to show compassion.

There is yet again another divide. One one side, well, the usuals line up, and on the other, of course. It’s like we’re on teams, just waiting to suit up and engage in battle.

I could quote from both teams. I could. I could rip into the other team. I won’t.

What is obvious is that both teams can be tone deaf at times. Both bring out the extremist in the other, or at least allow it to go on full display. It is often not a pretty display. Oh my.

Here is what I’ll say about Ginger Taylor’s attempt to honor those with autism (hah, well, it’s not really that, is it, when one of the latest additions is about someone with autism killing another person) who have died: see in the parenthetical you’ve seen the problem.

The site is called Lives Lost to Autism. And along with the tone deaf addition of autistic individuals who have killed, children with autism who have been murdered by their parents are included. And we see that either there is this incredible tone deafness or intentionality, the belief that if the children weren’t autistic, they wouldn’t have been killed, hence their autism is to blame for the deaths.

I’ve already given some mathematical reasoning for the supposition that the number of filicides involving autistic children doesn’t exceed 1% of the number of children murdered by their parents in the same time span.

Let’s assume that the thought, the feelings, the agenda behind Taylor’s site was genuinely to do good.  In fact, let’s assume that none of the parents on the other team intend harm, that they are not the bad guys. Let’s assume that their intentions are good, that they are scared shitless that vaccines are killing people and causing illness and that they are frantic to get the wider world to realize this. When you view their actions from their position, what they say, what they do, how they act all make logical sense.

Yes, we think they are incorrect in their assumptions and oftentimes beyond the pale in their actions. And we have good reasons to believe so, we even have empirical evidence to back up our reasons on most of their assumptions.

They, believing their logic and the sites that feed their mistaken assumptions, are overcome with a fervor that grows over time, especially as the mainstream pushes them farther into the fringes. They grow even more certain of their convictions.

There isn’t a damn thing we can do about this. We cannot reason them out of these beliefs. We cannot conciliate them out of them, either.

We work to contain them, to not allow the metaphorical contagion to grow. Yeah, well, that may not work either.

We can not change them. We can not join them. Yelling at them does no good, except to make them more sure of themselves and more hostile.

What do we do?  If we can not change them, can we lessen their hostility? Hmmmmm. I don’t know.

What I know is that those on the extremes of this issue will go on hammering each other, trying to obliterate the other. We can choose to be a hammer. Some days, perhaps there’s no choice.

Or we can try not to react to their extremism with extremism of our own. We can try to find the middle way. Yes, we’re going to get off that path, as we are human, but we can try to get back on it. We can actively work to be compassionate to all people, to see the beneath the angry rhetoric to the pain that ultimately guides their actions.

Consider how you would feel if you believed as they did, if that were really your world view? Oh my, you would be filled with rage, with fear, with despair. You would need to lash out, to take swipes at, to make someone hurt for what they had done. It doesn’t matter that we reject their explanations; that only increases their despair and their rage.

I’m not suggesting accepting their version of reality. I don’t think that would lessen their pain. Or their hostility. I guess what I’m suggesting is what my good friend Louise suggesting last year: that we consider the source, that we examine closely the person and his situation before attacking and ridiculing, that we show compassion.

Thelma and Louise named their site Even Dumbasses Have Feelings for a reason: the realization that people we think are dumbasses: misguided, misdirected, and mistaken individuals, still have feelings, and we ought to be able to find a way to remember that, to display compassion and acceptance of their personhood even as we go about demonstrating why and how they are misguided, misdirected and mistaken.

Perhaps, perhaps it’s possible that this (the lives lost to autism site) site reflects some of their deepest fears. Maybe to them autism is a dark entity that robs everything in their lives of light. Yes, they are tone deaf, at the very least, with no apparent concern for the actual living, breathing autistic individuals who identify with their autism and will see that site as a fundamental rejection of their humanity. Maybe they don’t see that this site, a collection of news reports and photos of individuals, real people, could cause surviving family members tremendous pain.

Obviously, hammering away at them won’t get them to reconsider their actions; it only serves to entrench them.

We should honor those who have died. We should show compassion and respect for those who survive. And we should remember those who are alive and witnesses of our actions. Our children watch. And they see, and they process, and it is for them, ultimately, to judge us. Did we serve them well? Did we make the world a better place for them? A safer place for them? Or did we help to make the world a little bit uglier? A little bit meaner? A little bit darker?

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