Ableist Culture

Scientific American published an excellent article on Trump being an extreme example of the ableist culture in the US.

It was a grotesque sight: the president of the United States preening from the White House balcony, his mask pulled defiantly off his face, able to infect anyone around him with the novel coronavirus. He had just been released from Walter Reed hospital, after he’d tweeted that we shouldn’t “be afraid of COVID” or “let it dominate your life”—as if it hadn’t already killed more than 200,000 people in the United States alone.

If you encountered the coronavirus, had “good genes,” and were just plain strong enough, Trump seemed to be saying, you wouldn’t have to be like the one million sad, weak losers around the globe who let the virus beat them.

We laud people who “overcome” their disabilities and deride people who live with them, even as this pandemic has taught us that we need mutual aid and interdependence. This ableist culture that glorifies “beating” and “getting over” sickness has ushered in the grotesque carnival we are witnessing now in the White House.

The single word that encapsulates these problems is lame. While lame is clinically defined  as a body part with impaired mobility, “That’s so lame” is tossed about as a pejorative constantly—because what could be more disgusting and useless than legs that can’t walk?

Source: Scientific American

The disdain for getting help from others

I feel like every time I hear about expanding social safety nets or giving aid, even unemployment aid during Covid-19, in the US, the word “Socialism” comes up and so do all the nasty associations. From what I observe, grinding yourself to success is glorified as strong while receiving help is perceived as weak.

The idea that we are responsible for our own fate is not wrong. I buy into that too. Every time I run into a roadblock in life, I look at myself first and wonder what I could have done better instead of placing blame on others. But I didn’t get through college without help. Nor did I land a full time job and a working visa all by myself. I got help. From families, friends and others. Bill Gates was lucky enough to go to the one school in the US that had a computer at the time; which planted the seed for extraordinary success later in his life. He would be the first to admit that he couldn’t do all that he has done alone. Warren Buffett repeatedly admits that he is lucky to be born when he was, and as a white male. Talk to any decent and truthful people and they’ll tell you that their success derives so much from luck.

Then why are we looking down on those who just need a little help to get their life together?

There are folks born with the odds greatly stacked against them such as disabilities, livelihood destroyed in a natural disaster or living in an under-developed area. In those cases, there is no question that we should extend as much help as possible. There are others who are in a bind because of poor decisions. Nonetheless, past mistakes or decisions shouldn’t rid oneself of a chance at redemption or assistance. If a 50-year-old coal miner lost his job because the industry contracted and didn’t have much saving due to poor personal finance, is it his fault for not having a sound strategy in his life? Yeah, perhaps. But should the government give him some help in the form of unemployment assistance or job training & placement? Absolutely. Because of these two main reasons: 1/ We live in a society where folks should help one another better. And if you don’t give help directly, at least don’t ridicule others for getting help. & 2/ you could be on the receiving end yourself.

A fellow Vietnamese once told me that he hated Indians because Indians helped one another land all doctor job opportunities that should have been his. When I asked what he would have felt if the shoe had been on the other foot, he stumbled. Politicians, especially those from the right wing, often argue that social safety nets make people lazy, but these politicians have no problem giving companies tax cuts to bail them out or give them a leg up, even though we have never seen a trickle down economics work, like ever.

I think a very good antidote to the disdain that our society has towards assistance to the people in need is that each and every of us should ask ourselves: what if that was me?

Language matters

Like the article says, language matters. The words we use matter. I sometimes joke to my friends that they shouldn’t act like a girl or that they should man up. I also use the word “lame” to describe a few others. While I consider myself a feminist and someone having respect towards people, in some cases I was being sexist, in others I was just straight up ignorant. I need to get better. Reading this article is a wake-up call for me. I should have known it earlier, but I am glad I identified the issue.

Changing a culture is immensely difficult and time-consuming. How long did it take us to get where we are today in terms of our position towards slavery and gender equality? But it has to start somewhere and now is just as good a time as any.

Deadlines and leadership

I came across this insightful and engaging read from a PhD in clinical psychology on the impact of deadlines and leadership. If you care about these two issues, I urge you to have a read.

I am usually baffled by all the fancy recommendations on how to be successful. To me, it’s very simple. First and foremost, don’t be an asshole. If you manage to do that, you already go a long long way. If you grow old and don’t realize you are an asshole to others or don’t have family or friends tell you that, you’ll have a bigger problem than your career.

Furthermore, in my book, leadership is not about age or title or years of experience. It is about nurturing others, being the last to take credit and and being the first to shoulder the blame. Otherwise, why would others put you in a position of authority? If a manager never grows you, doesn’t acknowledge your work and always places the blame on you, will you consider manager a good leader? Or will you just deride the person as someone that just happens to have authority over you?

In addition, I believe leaders should also have compassion and interpersonal skills. I remember the time when I was lucky enough to be in a managerial position in Vietnam. While I received positive feedback on being a leader, I admittedly failed spectacularly as managing my staff and firing one of them. The experience taught me how difficult it was to have leadership skills. It’s not just about “being the head of a team or an organization”. It’s about how you took a bullet for the team, how you nurtured your folks, how you shared the credit, how you managed the interpersonal relationships and how you dealt with difficult conversations.

I know I failed, at minimum, at two of those. But I would love to have a chance to be in a managerial position again, this time in the US.

100th post in 2018

I don’t remember the exact time, but somewhere in the summer, I decided to put effort into this blog and resolve to have at least 100 posts at the end of 2018. At the time, I had around 20 something posts already. Not a tall order. Not an ambitious goal. But a goal to work on, to look forward to.

Fast forward, a few days from when the sun will finally set on 2018, I achieved the goal set a few months ago. But it’s just the start of a very long road. I set my sight on publishing 200 more posts in 2019 and more in the future.

The primary metric is the number of published posts, not the number of followers or likes. The purpose of this blog is an outlet of my expression, whether it is a coding tip, a book I enjoyed, something that happened in my life or an opinion on a topic. My goal is to get out of my shell more as well as to create a rewarding long-term habit. I have enjoyed the journey of getting to 100 posts as much as the feeling coming from reaching the milestone itself. Hence, I really look forward to writing more next year and beyond.

Finally, as 2019 is just around the corner, I wish everyone a great holiday break, fully charged before taking on the new challenges in 2019. In a non-stop world we are living in, it’s more important to have a slow period of time such as this time of the year.