2012-05-16

The Second Smooth Stone of Liberalism

I'm addressing neurodiversity, for, as Meg Jobes said in an email to me:
“Everyone will be encountering more than one child who has [autism]. I think Unitiarian Universalists should be speaking not just to racial diversity and social diversity, but we should be including neurodiversity and be welcoming to people with autism and other neurological issues (adhd, etc.)”
I am particulary jazzed to take this opportunity to talk about stretching our welcoming, our acceptance, our radical hospitality, our love to the neurodiverse, the neurologically atypical. You see, in my years as a Unitarian Universalist minister, I have preached about feminism and patriarchy – and I’m a man.

I have preached about racism and the unfinished project of racial justice – and I’m white, in the sense that I’ve been told all my life that I’m white, and society grants me the tacit privileges of whiteness.

I have preached about homophobia and queer theory and transgender fairness and understanding – yet I am straight, and the body that I am trapped inside of, aside from the fact that it isn’t 20 anymore, seems to suit me. It seems, so far, to match fairly well my sense of my gender self.

I have preached about immigration justice – and I am a native-born citizen of this land, and my US passport gets me easily into most other countries.

I have preached about the need to better understand and address poverty – and I was born, raised, and remain solidly middle-class.

I have referenced the importance of accessibility for the differently-abled -- and I have the use of limbs that is called “normal.”

I’ve preached about cruelty to nonhuman animals – and I am human.

All of this is well and good. We need to hear the voices of the oppressed, and we also need for people of privilege like me to speak out for justice. There is a place for US-citizen, normally-abled, average height, average weight, right-handed, middle-class, middle-aged straight white human men to stand as allies of women, gay men, lesbians, the transgendered, African Americans, undocumented workers, the poor, the differently-abled, and of all the critters of God’s green earth.

But when I speak on the topic of neurodiversity, I speak to you as a person who is, himself, not neurotypical. A year and a half ago, in late 2010, I was diagnosed with ADHD. Now, at my Doctor’s suggestion, I do brain training exercises, I take zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, and B-vitamins, and an anti-oxidant and a prescription stimulant. I try harder and more conscientiously to get more sleep, since my doctor says that getting less than 8 hours sleep is the single greatest factor that will exacerbate my scatteredness. ADHD is the gator I’m wrestling with.

You might be wondering: Whatever happened to fault? Isn’t anybody responsible for themselves any more? If we can’t shush a distracting child’s noise, who can we shush? If we can’t criticize our minister without actually talking to him about our concerns and how we can help, then who can we criticize without talking to them about it?

I am reminded that 30 years ago, a corner was being turned in our culture’s attitudes about domestic abuse. In 1979, as a law against marital rape was being considered, Bob Wilson, representative from California, said, “If you can’t rape your wife who can you rape?” It’s strange to think that only 33 years ago, that question could be asked in all seriousness – that it really did express a real sentiment in our society then. I don’t imagine the sentiment has entirely disappeared, but it’s been a long time since a public figure could get away with expressing it publicly.

The answer that the vast majority of Unitarian Universalists have been giving since well before 1979 is obviously, you can’t rape anyone. It is the second of our "five smooth stones of liberalism" that relations between persons ought to rest on mutual free consent and not coercion. (Click here.)

This idea of consent applies also to the way we treat our children. I'm not talking about formal consent, which requires that the parties have reached "the age of consent." Rather, I mean what is at the core of the idea of consent: a relationship of respect, care, and accountability. Parenting-type behaviors – like shushing a child – need also to rest upon consent. If I have a relationship with both the child and that child's parent, if I share in an understanding of what’s going on in the given situation, then I might not be out of line to give a mild admonishment. But only if I first have understanding, and an established relationship that affords me that role. I would certainly have to be aware of what neurological conditions might be at play. We have to know the child before we can help that child grow.

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Part 4 of "Neurodiversity"
Next: Part 5: "Worship"
Previous: Part 3: "The Holy Wholly Other"
Beginning: Part 1: "Gator Wrestling"