Why Those Words?

The words have not changed a lot since we first drafted the “Disability Attitudes” in 2009. The following takes us quickly through each stage and help us all understand why those words were ultimately chosen.

This is a harsh word. You don’t typically want to tell people that they are ignorant, but it does get their attention. I would have to say that the reason we have settled on this word is because we want to be very honest about the situation (and this is about as accurate an assessment as you can find) and it is also an attention-getter. But it gets attention not because people think that’s where they are, but because they think people around them are in that stage – certainly I, being as intellectually advanced as I am, would not be ‘ignorant’ of something. We have had debates back and forth about this word especially. In fact, we have even had suggestions that there is a stage before ignorance (from subtle antipathy to outright aggressive hatred and bullying).

This word was chosen, again, because it seemed to be the most accurate and because to many people, it actually seems like one of the highest ’empathies’ you can have toward people with disabilities. What’s wonderful about using this word is that it is actually something we are tasked with providing to people in need and it has both a negative and positive quotient. Negative pity is cyclical – you never do anything but wallow in an attitude of pity because you cannot see beyond it (particularly for people who cannot be fixed, like those who have disabilities). However, positive pity is linear, a step on the journey. Positive pity says “this person needs something other than my feeling sorry, this person needs mercy, needs friendship, needs opportunity.”

Originally this was “Mercy,” but that word was heavily-tinged with theology. Then we used “Compassion” for a short time before landing on “Care.” What we are trying to convey here is that attitude that most people think is the highest expression of concern for people who can’t really do or contribute anything to the world around them. Instead of just feeling sorry for them, we do something for them, often because we know they were created by God and that as such, they are worthy of our concern. We are also trying to convey the kind of attitude that gives birth to places like Elim and Bethshan and church disability ministries, that people with disabilities need special support and care.

This word conveys a ‘hint’ of mutuality – that we somehow can have a reciprocal relationship with someone with disabilities. It is not just about us pouring ourselves into them for their benefit, but that somehow, I can benefit from how I relate to someone with disabilities. This is an oft-spoken sentiment of people who work with or have loved ones with disabilities, but does this word really convey that thought? It is important to note that “Friendship” is typically the first ‘stage’ that should come as a surprise to the reader. Most will have assumed that the truly highest expression of concern would simply be compassion. It is important that the reader really notice, at this stage, that some form of mutuality is not only possible, but in some way urgently necessary to the life of the reader. If there is a word that can communicate that better, it would be welcome.

This is one of those areas that causes perhaps the greatest consternation. Co-laborers is not an easy word to say, it isn’t common to everyday language, so it feels like a word to avoid using. But when we think about what it means to be co-laborers (1 Corinthians 3 and 2 Corinthians 6), it just felt to us like the perfect word. We are supposed to be working alongside people with disabilities to advance the Kingdom of God. This is not a word that is supposed to convey partnership or friendliness, but to convey the next stage of friendship. We encourage one another to stay true to God, to seek first His righteousness, to put away the sinful desires and the selfish desires, to become who God created us to be.

Each of the words was chosen carefully, and has even seen a few adjustments, but the overall idea is to convey a distinct and important step in the attitudinal journey with each word we used.