The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

“Yes I can…” has it’s limits.

The “Yes I can…” Paralympic campaign is an impressive bit of film with lot’s of positive aspects. A lot of people have been encouraged by the campaign, and I’ve been hesitant to comment as a result. But I will comment as there are some aspects that are worth questioning.

This ad does a number of things really well. Incidentally, this ad was discussed on Gruen this week. It challenges the perception that people with disabilities are disempowered and are to be the subject of pity, and blows it to smithereens. People with disabilities can be just as empowered as anyone else, and if you get in their way, they’ll run over you with their wheelchair. It’s also putting disability in the public conscienceless in a really positive light, and that disability isn’t anything to be afraid of.

As a recreational cyclist, I understand getting fit and staying fit is hard work. When you have a disability, it’s really hard work that requires a ridiculous amount of commitment. I get it. For my mates to do what they do, they need to be fit. For me to do what my mates do, I need to be super fit. And I’m extremely thankful that I have a job where I can make cycling one of my day’s priorities. These guys ought to be congratulated and celebrated. Quite frankly, who cares about the medals? What the guys have achieved is absolutely amazing! And I said the same about athletes without disabilities.

But I actually don’t like this ad. I don’t like it for sociological, philosophical and theological reasons. Socially, people with disabilities have had (and still have?) a tendency to be seen as sub-human. It’s an existence of otherness. To counteract that tendency, the perception is being swung the other way so that now perceived as super-human. In religious terms, the demon had been made a deity. Now, it’s an improvement in the way that people with disabilities are perceived. But It is still an existence of otherness. At the end of the day, it’s not that much more helpful. People with disabilities have concerns, interests and aspirations they want embraced the same as anyone else.

Philosophical, it plays into an ableist framework where personhood and personal worth are validated by ability. It is such frameworks that has oppressed people with disabilities in the first place. We need to be finding other level grounds to validate one’s personhood.

Theologically, it’s honouring self rather than God. It needs to be said, outside of the Christian context, why would you do anything else? 20 years ago, I would’ve had the same mind. But with my grace oriented theology, I consider my achievements to be not as a result of psyching myself up with a mantra “Yes I can!”, but as a humble realisation that God has given me this ability, and I’m going respond to that grace by honouring him in the way I use my ability. And sometimes that means using a little less ability – especially on the bike.

Yes, let’s put disability on the social conscience, not as people who a sub human or super human, but as those who share in a common humanity.

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September 2, 2016 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , ,

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