On the date of Thursday, October 4th, 2012 I had the privilege of delivering a lecture at the University of Buffalo, which was sponsored by a company called, People Inc. People, Inc. runs the Museum of DisABILITIES just down the street. A man named Doug gave me a tour of the museum that paints the bitter realities of how those with “differences” have been viewed throughout history. They were known as “imbeciles” “idiots” and “morons” more recently than we would like to admit. It is hard to imagine these terms were once freely tossed around in educated social circles and/or were seen as politically correct. But even with this unvarnished view of history…some aspects of the tour stood out like fine lines of sunlight fighting their way through tight blinds. There were the occasional sports heroes and I learned the hand signals in baseball were germinated from the first hearing-impaired player around the start of the last century. Furthermore, there were a nice number of individuals who decided that they could not live with the miserable realities that clung to “their kind.” I witnessed historical examples of individuals who really played the horrible hand they were dealt in this life. Some people with disabilities found their niche. Those with dwarfism ended up posing as fantastical creatures in movies like “The Wizard of Oz” and even had shows to raise money for their conditions. I have some faith they were very happy while playing the hand they were dealt. The exhibit also talks about those who were exiled from their communities and even deported from this country out of fear their imbecility would contaminate the normal population’s gene pool! I am sure there was a lot of bullying during those days and it would take another museum to do it justice.
Bullying is a merciless reality for so many individuals these days and it is especially tenacious for those individuals who suffer from disabilities. We have evolved in society so that someone with a very noticeable physical or intellectual disability is not tormented. We were taught better than that in early childhood. You know? Don’t stare at someone with a disability! And how dare you laugh at that man in the wheelchair? You know better. But what about that grey area where someone just seems like a kook or is abnormal? Maybe they have a disability or are just downright weird? But the purpose of my visit to Buffalo was not to determine who deserves to be made fun of and who is entitled to be left alone. As is the case in all of my presentations, I try to emphasize bullying is a disabling misery that leaves newly-disabled individuals in its wake!
The auditorium at the University of Buffalo was vast enough to accommodate hundreds of attendees. They started off the night by screening the movie, “Bully” that paints a brutal and somewhat-hopeless portrait of schoolyard torment. It is haunting and now I understand why most theatres refused to show it. People tend to flock to the movies to escape their troubles. But “Bully” has the effect of making you relive the horrors of junior high school. The main subject in the movie is a painfully-awkward child named, Alex Hopkins, with oversized lips. He is one of the survivors, however. One of the most wrenching scenes involves a child in a casket who has given up in the worst way possible. There was really only one way to end the abuse…
The movie is not possible to describe in a blog entry because it is too painful. It was a terrible movie because there was no ending that gives a semblance of hope of this epidemic ever getting better. Perhaps this is the whole point because it is time for us to finally write our own ending! My subsequent speech was received with modest applause and minimal book sales (compared to the other presentations), but it was the only time when I did not mind so much. The night was all about the movie and I believe the audience was too emotionally-drained to stand up and cheer. I would like to thank the Weinstein Company, the kids depicted in the movie, and all those involved who made us want to rise that particular night. The greatest lesson I learned from “Bully” is how, “Apathy is the glove in which evil slips its hand.” Therefore, it is time to rise!