I was recently at an event — the type where you’re supposed to mingle holding a drink and make small but significant conversation with total strangers. In other words, hell. I ended up caught in a conversation with a woman whose adult son is Autistic, and who wanted to lecture me on how it was caused by vaccines, mercury in fillings, and fluoridation in the water. (The conversation happened last week, not in 1965.) She “warned” that soon 1 in 2 boys would have autism. She said her son was “her part-time job.” I asked (assumed, actually; that’s how far inside my own head I generally dwell) about involvement in groups of parents of adults with disabilities; her husband chimed in that these groups were “just” interested in “access” — the latter term enunciated as if “interest in access” was as absurd as “interest in pro wrestling” or “interest in wearing white after Labor Day.”
As an introvert and a klutz, I could not figure out the cocktail-party-level response to this. So I put down my beer (half-finished! desperate times!) and left. I have this question for you extroverts and people with social skills but also a righteous civil rights message: what do you do in shallow social situations when someone says something deeply misguided or offensive? I’ve blogged about avoiding entirely situations in which people — especially people you don’t know well but thought you respected — might say something buttheaded about disability or civil rights. But what do you do when you’re stuck? You’ve taken the highly questionable step of actually putting yourself in the position of making small talk with strangers, and the conversation takes a distinctly buttheaded turn.
Saw this on Facebook today; wish I could have responded as cleverly.
Image: the graphic consists of five text boxes, arranged with one at the top, and then two rows of two below. The top text box contains the meme being ridiculed. It shows a syringe and states “If you mixed Mercury, Aluminum phosphate, Ammonium sulfate, and Formaldehyde with VIRUSES, then got a syringe and INJECTED it into your child . . . you would be ARRESTED and sent to JAIL for child endangerment and abuse. Then WHY is it legal for a doctor to do it? and WHY would you let them? Educate yourself. Re-Think Vaccines.” The box in the second row on the left has an icon of two cars colliding head on, and reads “If you welded some scrap Aluminum and Steel together, added some Tires, Cylinders, Spark plugs and GASOLINE, then took it out and DROVE it on a public road, you would be ARRESTED and sent to JAIL for public endangerment and unsafe vehicle. Then WHY is it legal for Ford & Chevy to do it? and WHY would you let them? Educate yourself. Re-Think Vehicles.”The next box has a wall socket and reads “If you look Copper wiring, connected It to the city power grid, then ran it through the walls of your house and into the bedroom of your child, you would be arrested for child endangerment and fire code violations. Then WHY is it legal for electrician to do it? and WHY would you let them? Educate yourself. Re-Think Electricity.” The box on the bottom left has a fireman’s ax and reads, “If you burst Into the bedroom of a child you didn’t know wielding and Axe and then forcibly took the child out of bed and carried them outside the house, you would be arrested and sent to jail for the assault and kidnapping of a child. Then WHY is it legal for firefighter to do it? and WHY would you let them? Educate yourself. Re-Think Firefighters.” The final box on the lower right has an airplane seating chart and reads, “if you took over a hundred people, packed Them into a pressurized metal tube, then used refined KEROSENE to LAUNCH Them to over 35,000 feet at speeds of over 450 knotsyou would be ARRESTED and sent to JAIL for . . . . I’m not sure, probably a lot of things. Then WHY is it legal for pilots to do it? and WHY would you let them? Educate yourself. Re-Think Aviation.”
You handled it almost perfectly. Putting the beer down was the only mistake.
Thanks, Bruce. Coming from a gen-u-ine extrovert, your judgment carries the weight of authority!
How’d you get an invite to Jenny McCarthy’s wedding?