I Never Said He Wasn’t Being Kind

There’s a photograph making the rounds on social media. Maybe you’ve seen it. A McDonald’s employee performed what the USA Today called a “random act of kindess.” According to the newspaper, the employee (Kenny) shut down his register to assist the customer, an unidentified man using a wheelchair, with cutting his food and eating. The act was caught by Destiny Carreno, who snapped a photo and shared it with her friends on Facebook.

Kenny performed a kind, charitable act. He assisted a customer who asked for help.

I am not denying this. I have received assistance from many people – both friends and strangers – in my life. Each time I am grateful for the blessings these compassionate people add to my world. In fact, whenever I am out in public and something wacky happens (I drop my reacher or find my wheelchair stuck on uneven ground), I am astounded by the speed at which my unspoken prayers for assistance are answered. It’s as if I only have to think, “I could really use an angel right now,” and suddenly help is on the scene. I know from experience most people are kind, and glad to offer assistance.

The photo of Kenny assisting the customer upsets me because of the questions it raises in my mind. When I look at the photo, I don’t see a photo of a kind person performing an act of compassion.

I see a person with a disability who is forced to rely on a stranger to meet a basic survival need, and it makes me angry. I see a man who does not have access to services or supports to assist him in the community. Maybe he does have access to services but we don’t know this because we don’t know who he is.

Did he want to go to McDonald’s and ask a stranger, “Please help me?” What happens when he leaves the restaurant? Is there someone to help him access the bathroom? Can he get into bed without assistance and will someone help him with that task?

If you needed this level of assistance, would you want to rely on a stranger to provide it? And if you did ask and receive such assistance from a stranger, would you want your photo to be published on social media sites as a means for others to have warm, fuzzy feelings?

There is no doubt about Kenny’s compassion or exemplary customer service. Kenny is not to blame in this situation. I am glad this man found kindness from Kenny when making his plea for help. I hope there are more Kenny’s out there who would react the same way upon receiving such a request.

I don’t blame Destiny Carreno, the photographer, for recognizing an act of kindness. I do have issues with photos being broadcast on the internet without permission, although I recognize our expected right to privacy is dwindling these days. I know if someone were to take a video or photo of me receiving assistance without my consent and then share it in a post which received over one million views, I would be upset.

I see the photo and I see ableism. I see inspiration porn. Watch the amazing late Stella Young if you don’t know that term.

I see a nameless wheelchair user who has been turned into the background character in a “feel good” story. I see a symptom of a society which has not yet fully developed and/or funded the supports required for a person with a disability to be truly independent and self-directing without relying on a stranger to meet a basic need.

This man, whatever his name, was hungry and wanted to eat. He had to ask a stranger, Kenny, to help him. Kenny DID help him, which is wonderful.

But do we want to live in a society where those who live with disabilities are forced to ask strangers to help them meet basic needs? As someone who regularly relies on others to assist me with such basic needs I know that is not a society I want for myself, or others.

Sure, praise acts of kindness if you want.

Just don’t forget the reason behind the need for such acts.

 

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24 thoughts on “I Never Said He Wasn’t Being Kind

  1. Valid points. Sometimes I think that our “instant” society has devalued our value, in that it puts a “interest cost” on every action. Plastering it all over the internet as the next 5 second sensation was probably not a good thing, although it may have positive repercussions, who knows. there always seem to be multiple sides and outcomes to many things, and we may never know the full story surrounding it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know it’s a tough thing. You’ve seen the images. They’re everywhere. But, if someone had taken a photo of me and my prom date and shared it with everyone as a means to offer him praise for taking me to a dance, I would have been livid. He was the geek who wasn’t going to go! I rescued him! Likewise, if someone takes a photo of me performing a mundane task and publicizes it to make themselves feel better about how bad I’ve got it and how good they are in comparison – I’ll be tempted to engage in not nice behavior.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I marvel at the way we seek to document our lives for social media. Last summer I read about a new thing: the vacation photographer, hired for a day to take pictures of your awesome family having an awesome time in an awesome part of the world. The example given was a family vacationing in Central America (yeah, the awesome coast), and the photos were superb and artistic–obviously the work of a professional.

    The article pointed out that nowadays if we can’t post photos on social media, it’s like the event didn’t happen.

    Huh?

    Thank you for this thought-provoking piece, Denise. I would not have thought about this from the point of view of the one who was helped.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have started to ask myself, “Just because I could post this, should I post it?” I think we forget to be present in the moment sometimes when we are too focused on “sharing” the moment. When I went to Australia last year, there were definitely moments I thought, “I can’t wait to share this with friends at home!” But usually I did not have access until we were back at my hosts’ house or the hotel. I snapped photos but was not caught up in posting or blogging. I had planned to blog every day, but it only took 3 days for me to decide people were more important than writing. I still wrote posts about each day, but about half were written while flying home or after I returned home.

      Thank you for your comment – and for thinking things a bit differently.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Denise, thank you for posting this perspective. I did not see the post on Facebook, but you recount it well. How are we not all angry that this man is on his own when it’s clear that assistance with these needs exist? We may indeed just be further developing as a society, as you reference. I have to say, I especially liked the fact that even though you were angry with the photo and Facebook post that you recognized multiple times that Kenny was still kind and did not in any way negate that. Well written!! Do you mind if I share?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for taking the time to read and share your thoughts. I don’t mind that he’s on his own, just that he didn’t have supports when he needed them. I spend lots of time on my own when others probably think I should have someone near me – but I have made that choice. Maybe the man in question made the choice to go ask a stranger, but we don’t know because the stories never bothered to ask him. He was just an object of pity in the story.

      I am honored to have you share it. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad it made you think. It’s the season for local news here to cover all of the “he took the disabled chick to the prom” stories that aren’t really stories. What’s the real message there? Thank you for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. One of the things I love about you, and your writing, is how you make me think about things in a different way–or perhaps a broader way. Since this piece first came out and some of the subsequent discussions we have had, I’ve found myself looking beyond the headline (especially the “you won’t believe what happened next” click-bait headlines). Thank you for that gift. You’re right, just because we can post, doesn’t mean we should. Keep up this work, Denise. It matters.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Crystal. I am humbled by your praise because I feel the same when I read your writing (which often causes me to think about things a different way). I am always suspect of click-bait headlines, sometimes to the point of not wanting to read the story for the real scoop. I don’t always post the “right” things, but hopefully I am choosing to share and post things which make people think.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. First, if a person who cannot feed himself asks you for help, how is it a random act of kindness to help him? That isn’t random any more than it would be a random act of assholery to deny him help. Here’s another recent and similar story. After reading your piece it just makes me shake my head, wondering why a man with no hands has to ask strangers to feed him. Don’t even get me started on people who take the pics and share this stuff claiming it isn’t for themselves. http://www.kctv5.com/story/31815796/waiter-helps-man-with-no-hands-eat-meal

    Liked by 1 person

    • That “story” was making the rounds last night when I published my most recent post in the Redefining Disability Challenge. The challenge question had to do with disabilities and media. I spoke out about inspiration porn and bam! That story popped up on a friend’s page. I’m glad you thought differently about it. And please, let’s NOT talk about the people you mentioned!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you so much, Denise, for helping me to see a different perspective. I know I have occasionally been guilty of blindly sharing or reposting stories without asking myself if it is a story I SHOULD be sharing. I have been listening in on similar conversations involving people of colour, members of the LGBT community, refugees, Muslims, really, a lot of people who have been cast into the category of “other” and their stories have included a perspective very similar to the issue you raise here: Why do “we” (who are not the “other”) feel like we have the right to speak for others, especially since it too frequently comes across as condescension? Am I really adding anything meaningful and helpful to conversation or am I simply exerting my white, middle class, able-bodied privilege? I’m ashamed to admit that sometimes it has been the latter. I can’t make up for my past blunders, but I am a lot more circumspect in what I share these days.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for such a thoughtful and honest comment. It’s challenging at times to look at our privilege and how it impacts our actions. I know I am more conscious about preserving other people’s ability to tell their own stories. It’s important to hear authentic first-person accounts. Thanks also for thinking about what you’re sharing, and the messages you are sending to the world.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ll probably sound cynical, but I’m sick of people trying to put a kinder spin on the world with images of “random acts of kindness” which are often not random or truly kind. As you said, what about appropriate access? What about “face” and the right to dignity? Same as with anyone, if I sense there may be a need, I try to be easy to ask by virtue of discretion. So much of what you say makes great sense. I had no idea how bad it was out there and appreciate hearing how we can improve.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You’re not my inspiration, Denise. You’re my Cher-to-Nic-Cage “snap out of it! reminder to look again and interrogate what’s really going on here. Thanks for the tea and perspective.

    Like

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