Rethinking Common Sayings – A semi-rant

The other day, thanks to exposure to the organization People First of Washington, I found myself re-examining the biblical and overused expression, “the blind leading the blind.” I am certain this metaphor has already been torn apart by others, wait, I’m googling it right now, here’s a link to Autistic Hoya on a list of Ableist Phrases. I came to this realization when thinking about “the obese leading the obese” (I do not endorse the use of “the obese” to refer to anyone) — but really, if I believe in self-advocacy, who better to lead than a member of the group that has been misperceived, misunderstood, misinterpreted? The role of an ally, or friend, or caring human, is to say, “we’re all connected, is there something I can do?” and the answer may well be, “no, leave me the fuck alone. You’ve already ‘helped’ enough.”

And, I suppose, I wonder, what is leadership, anyhow? The point of the expression “the blind leading the blind” is to say that they will both end up falling into a pit. But, is that true? In terms of leading, I mean — will people who have the same, shared set of abilities be worse at leading than someone with a different set of abilities? Or if a person is to experience lasting “help” for themselves, would they not be better “lead” or taught by someone with a similar set of abilities who has found their way in the world with those abilities?

I’m late to read the Wicked series — I read Wicked not long after it was published, but I’ve devoured books 2-4 in the series, not yet having finished Out of Oz — but the theme of leadership flows throughout these books. I find myself in a position of leadership sometimes, whether it’s at the helm of my family, or at work, or in the greater world. And I always struggle in each of these realms, in terms of how much to listen to my own guidance, and how much to listen to others. I try, as much as possible, to incorporate all the “data” I have, whether that’s likes or dislikes of my 8-year-old when planning family meals, or passions and ideas of the people who, while incredibly self-directed, report to me since I am their supervisor. Good leadership is really, I think, good “followership” — but with the incorporation of data from multiple sources, and trying to strike the right balance, and checking back in with the people impacted by the decisions to make sure that there haven’t been negative unintended consequences (really, checking in the first place to get advice, as well as following up afterwards.)

So, then, who better to lead a person who has impaired vision, to avoid falling into a pit, than another person with impaired vision, who has walked the same path, and can show the follower how to make their own way as to not fall into this same pit in the future, by knowing the path, or having the right kind of assistance, or advocating for having the fucking pit filled in so no one will fall into it?

Where this expression really falls apart is when it’s transferred from the realm of concrete abilities to the idea of the “uniformed leading the uninformed” — that is, if someone with a particular problem leads someone else with that same problem “astray” with incorrect information, or information that “works for them” but not for others. (Sorry for all of the quotation marks, I am trying to convey that some of these words are problematic.) Being unable to use ones eyes to see (that’s not the only way of seeing, I think) is not a metaphor. Part of this relates to how problems are framed. For example, with the “obesity epidemic” — the problem is seen as “obesity.” From the perspective from person whose body is larger than average, their body size may not be the biggest issue, or an issue at all. Charlotte Cooper writes about this from a “Nothing About Us Without Us” perspective. Critiquing the “Foresight, Tackling Obesities: Future Choices” report, Charlotte Cooper writes:

This class background is particularly problematic given that a large chunk of the report is concerned with the question of What To Do About Poor Fat People? As is so often the case in obesity research, the notion of nothing about us without us is irrelevant, fat people are absent and abstracted.

Okay, I think that’s it for this morning. Have to get breakfast ready, clean the house, parent, get ready for Passover. Please let me know what you think in the comments.




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