Disclaimer: I am by means an expert on this subject and I most certainly don’t claim to be. But…. I do think I have a significantly large empathy gene.
Today I taught a few classes where we wrote essays on people with disabilities. Because Korea is not necessarily known for being particularly empathetic towards this part of the population, I appreciate any opportunity to teach on this subject matter. They had just studied about a gentlemen named Rick Hoyt, who had cerebral palsy and his lifelong journey to overcome his disability. While I could have taken the route of overcoming obstacles in your own life, I instead chose to take the route of “what if this was you”, “how would your life be different”, and “how can we help people in similar situations.”
I was amazed at how involved some of my students got in this topic. Some told stories about how they have helped someone cross the street or helped to push a wheelchair for someone in need. When talking to 6th and 7th graders about this subject it’s wonderful to see that they already have such an awareness about this. We talked about how we can help people reach or carry an item in the grocery store, giving up your seat on the subway or bus, and that sometimes it’s simple things you can do everyday to help someone (whether disabled or not) that mean the most.
We talked about how different their lives would be if they suffered from some sort of disability. Learning sign language. Frequent and endless sessions of physical therapy that would be necessary to build or regain muscle strength. And most importantly, the conscious effort it would take to maintain a positive attitude and continually try to live a life not defined by the disability.
So many people that I know (in perfectly adequate state of mind and health) live a life defined by excuses and experience loads of self-pity because of their lack of ability to do certain things. They get stuck in the mindset that they can’t do these things because of their financial state, genetic predisposition, or because they simply aren’t willing to do the work or research that it requires. That’s an awful lot of self-indulgence for things that are well within our realm of control.
All my life I have had friends with varying disabilities. They are not any less valuable members of society and have been some of the most real friends I have ever had. These friends have all lived a life of looking out past their disability and running towards, chasing the life they want-with no excuses. While I’m sure they have internal struggles (as we all do), they don’t live a life defined by them. I think we could all learn from that.