Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Parents, Prejudices, Fears, Children

This is going to be a touchy subject...

I'm going through a hell of a toothache right now. I guess all of you must know the feeling, that is why the expression "hit a nerve" came about. Even the slightest touch can send someone jumping to high heavens.

Aside from the toothache, something else had been bothering me since last night. As you may have read from my previous entries, I'm a regular on some forums. Not giving it a lot of thought, I posted a news item which had been circulating some social media sites a few days back.

One-armed presenter is scaring children, parents tell BBC

After reading, I truly was ambivalent about it so I decided to post the topic at a forum just to check what people think about it.

I immediately got some "down votes" on it, for even hinting the fact that I could have thought otherwise on it.

It made me feel bad of course! It also caught me unaware that people, well at least a majority of the respondents seemed to have a unanimous reaction on the subject. From the replies on the thread, two common ideals surface:

"Parents pass their prejudices onto their children..."

"She (disabled people) should not be discriminated against and should be treated as a normal human being. "

While there is no argument with the second, I am entirely unsure about the first, in this case at least.

Now I must be sounding like a bigot here for even thinking twice about the subject but there is an explanation.

First off, I am not trying to defend a particular train of thought here. Unfortunately I have noticed in a lot of forums that people join a discussion just to staunchly promote his or her perspective. I think, but hope not, that this is done to ultimately to get oneself in the spotlight, hence, increase one's reputation as an authority. Rarely do I encounter figures who are genuinely after the truth. After all, to recant even a part of one's thesis always bears a semblance of defeat. If you do this too often, nobody is going to call you an authority on anything in the near future.

Taking the mentality above, I did not dare post any other challenging remark on that topic then on as it would have been useless. However, I truly wanted to search myself and could not quite accept the fact why I even second guessed what BBC's stance on the matter should have been. Was I just passing my prejudices, thinking that children would really be disturbed because of the programme just as I have been?

Yes you heard me right. I felt uneasy seeing the picture. But please continue reading.

The feeling I got was not of disgust or disdain. It was of fear. Not fear because she looked different from me, not because she is not "normal". To anyone already revolting in his seat while reading this, try this exercise:

Click on the link again, and look at the picture. Look at your arm and then imagine it to be gone. What would you feel? Try something worse, imagine if the person you loved the most lost his arm? How would you feel?

A lot, if not most disabled people are inspirations simply because they become "more" because of what they lack. A normal person's physical prowess would pale in comparison to a Kyle Maynard's, a multi-awarded wrestler.

This is Kyle Maynard.

Yet he already has received an ESPY award, is a motivational speaker and is currently training in MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), one of the most violent and lethal sport today.

He is around 23 years old today and is an inspiration to many teens and athlethes. Now I will begin hitting nerves...

Let's face it, most of us are amazed, want and even envy Kyle Maynard's accomplishments, but would shudder to think that we, as just our plain selves, be put in a physical condition such as his. Please be honest, I am pretty sure you, my dear reader, would dread at the thought of losing an arm, a finger or even some teeth. I know I am. This is the fear that causes and uneasy feeling in me when I look at the picture of Cerrie Burnell.

Perhaps my fears are irrational. Most, if not all phobias are. However, young children are often irrational. Most young children are afraid of the dark. In this case, parents suspect that the images of a disabled person will force children to face issues before they are ready.

This is where I am at a loss. It is obvious that Ms. Burnell is perfectly qualified to take up the position of host. According to the report, she had already garnered numerous plaudits as a thespian, aside from the fact that she has also a background working with children as a teaching assistant at a special needs school in London. It seems that her missing appendage is entirely of no hindrance at all.

But how would we know what children would think? Perhaps "passing prejudices onto children" is correct. We may be passing not prejudices against but FOR. Again, when a nerve is touched, when a discussion regarding the marginalized comes up, we are quick to jump in to say a good word. Most of us never ever consider thinking otherwise, lest we be labeled bigots. I know I am going to come under fire for this but take for example a person born with dwarfism. Say such a person aspires to become a basketball player and proceeds to apply into a league. If he does not get accepted, would you say that he got the raw end of the deal? Another example, please forgive me again if this sounds offensive. There are plans to create another "Captain America" movie. Taking into consideration that the storyline and milieu of the comic book, Captain America is Steve Rogers, of Irish descent, is made into a perfect soldier and the image of the American fighting force in the 1940's, a time when racism was rampant and the African-American community was being oppressed. There are several actors being considered for the role, one being a strikingly handsome and very capable actor named Will Smith. Again, if the upcoming movie were to use the exact storyline and milieu mentioned earlier, in all honesty, do you think it would work?

Let's derail your train of though for a moment and go back to the subject of limbs. I think it is innate in all humans to fear the loss of a limb or any part of the body for that matter. There is such a thing as “body image”; it is how we, our brain perceive the body we have. Think of it as a map of the whole body stored in the mind. Because of this, “proprioception” is possible. If you wish to test how integral the body image is to your being, try the Pinocchio Illusion or better yet, the Rubber Hand Illusion on this page.

There is also a phenomenon called the “Phantom Limb“ where the brain still “feels” an appendage that has already been severed. Basically, the brain fools the body into thinking that the missing limb is present, albeit shorter and more distorted in position. To get an idea what it feels like...

"...I placed a coffee cup in front of John and asked him to grab it [with his phantom limb]. Just as he said he was reaching out, I yanked the cup away.

"Ow!" he yelled. "Don't do that!"

"What's the matter?"

"Don't do that", he repeated. "I had just got my fingers around the cup handle when you pulled it. That really hurts!"

Hold on a minute. I wrench a real cup from phantom fingers and the person yells, ouch! The fingers were illusory, but the pain was real - indeed, so intense that I dared not repeat the experiment..."
Ramachandran, Phantoms in the Brain, p. 43. (Ramachandran & Blakeslee 1998)

The physical is always intertwined with the mental (some even say with the spiritual). It is not so surprising that whatever the brain (or mind) initiates will have a direct effect on the body. A perfect example would be the problem that young girls are facing now. Since "Thin is In" and models with impossibly skinny physiques are being glorified on the television, a lot of teens and women are now having health complications in the hopes of attaining a similar physique. Now these are people which I suppose already have a healthy concept of what is and what isn't irrational.

Are you still able to follow? In the following section, I am just going to quote a couple of paragraphs from the NationMaster Encyclopedia website, hopefully you will know where to fit them...

"...Apotemnophilia (from Greek αποτέμνειν "to cut off") or BIID is the overwhelming desire to amputate one or more healthy limbs. The conditon can better be called BIID or Body Integrity Identity Disorder, because the "-philia" is a misleading term of this condition being a sexual fetish. Amputation is the removal of a body extremity by trauma or surgery. ...

A person with apotemnophilia wants one or more of his or her limbs cut off. The condition shouldn't be mistaken for a person with acrotomophilia, who is attracted to other persons who are already missing limbs. Apotemnophilia is in fact a word that was wrongly given (in the beginning when it was first discovered) for a condition that now often gets mistaken for something to do with sex or fetishism. Acrotomophilia is a sexual attraction to amputees or others missing limbs. ...

Today, very few surgeons will treat apotemnophilia patients by giving them what they want. There are hence several recorded cases of sufferers resorting to self-amputation of a "superfluous" limb, for example by allowing a train to run over it, or by damaging the limb so badly that surgeons will have to amputate it. Often the obsession is with one specific limb, with patients "not feeling complete while they still have a left leg", for example. The condition is usually treated, unsuccessfully, as a psychiatric disorder. A typical modern surgery operation For other meanings of the word, see Surgery (disambiguation) Surgery (from the Greek cheirourgia - lit. ... Psychiatry is the branch of medicine that diagnoses, treats, and studies mental illness and behavioral conditions. ...

Persons suffering from BIID can be as young as four or five years old when they first discover their condition, i.e by feeling jealous of another amputee.

Some even act out, pretending they are amputees using prostheses and other tools to ease their desire to be one.

There are much more research needed to be done about BIID and apotemnophilia - only a few reports has been done on the subject; but as research gains ground, more and more hospitals recognize the condition..."

I think the fear has always been there. Horror films frequently use the theme of abjection because it is something that humans innately fear. What is mentioned above can be typified as a defense mechanism called reaction formation, wherein an individual copes with an anxiety inducing situation by adapting an exaggerated response. In other words, you will love what you hate just to cope.

Too far fetched? I hope to God so. This is an instance I really wish to be proven wrong. A fellow forumer remarked that I gave far too little credit to the capacity of children. I do hope she is right. While I can certainly agree that it is possible for a 5 year old kid to grasp "political correctness", I highly doubt a 2 year old kid can. A kid as young will call a spade a spade, will not care if he is called a bigot and will determine what is weird and what is not according to his standards. He will unconsciously learn everything that his senses absorb and the things that he will learn will determine what he will love and what he will fear in the next hour, the next day, the next year and so forth.

I still don't know where to stand on the issue. If I were BBC, I'd probably conduct a survey among their viewers, the children, just to get an inkling on what they really think about the issue. In the meantime, I wish Ms. Burnell all the best. There is a hard and fast rule that should apply to this situation though:

"If you didn't mess up, you should not get fired."


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Dear Shannon,

    What a wonderful post!Thanks for sharing with so much passion and conviction. Also, thanks for visiting my blog and for sharing your thoughts...I wonder if you have read the story of Nick Vujicic..Do check it out if you have time. Take care and have a good week.

    Warmest wishes,

    P.S. I deleted the previous comment because I misspelled your name. My deepest apologies.

  3. Dear Shannon

    Thanks for dropping by my blog. I hope all is well with you. Miss your wonderful blogging. Take care and please blog when you are free.


  4. very nice post..Thanks for sharing this with us. But can you provide some more details about Internet and Safety?

  5. Hi I’m Heather! Please email me when you get a chance! I have a question about your blog. HeatherVonsj(at)gmail(dot)com