I heard the word ‘inclusive’ a lot, especially in the context of advocating disability rights and neuro-diversity. When I first came across the word in the context of my research on disability rights to education, I was perplexed by what the word inclusive actually mean. Surely, it means more than a physical act of including a group of people with disabilities into a mainstream class and expecting them to assimilate into the mainstream group under the guise of equality?
The United Nations World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen 1995) defines an inclusive society as a “society for all, in which every individual, each with rights and responsibilities, has an active role to play. An inclusive society is based on the fundamental values of equity, equality, social justice, and human dignity and rights and freedoms, as well as on the principles of embracing diversity. A society for all is equipped with appropriate mechanisms that enable its citizens to participate in the decision-making processes that affect their lives, and ultimately shape their common future.” (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Final Report of the Expert Group Meeting on Creating an Inclusive Society: Practical Strategies to Promote Social Integration, 10-13 September 2007)
I’m not here to talk about international diplomacy or politics but I’m baffled by the effort and length it takes to explain inclusive and the socio-political connotations of it because how I understand and interpret the word ‘inclusive’ can be summed up in two words, “be considerate.” And it genuinely perturbs me that us, human beings have to be taught and reminded to care for one another and be considerate. People talk about wanting to be and feel included in everyday life and what I think that means is people want their voice heard, their choices respected and their feelings cared for. The thing I don’t understand is isn’t being considerate basic manners? Have we reached a stage of evolution where to be human is to be devoid of feelings and empathy?
As I’m writing this, I have my earpiece plugged in while at home to block out the noise and footsteps of my neighbours above. It never fails to enrage me even after ‘living with it’ for several years and has continued to be one of my major source of stress. I thought about the passers-by who talked so loud I could hear them as they walked past the stairway outside my flat, I thought about the people who I will walk into and brush against on my way to work and on rainy days, oblivious people who put others at risk of being hurt by how they carried their umbrellas. Or people who lugged their luggage around on busy streets without watching where they were going and the guy who once sat beside me in the cinema who kept checking his mobile every 5-10 minute interval throughout the show. And the excuses, explanations I kept coming up for people (they are fighting a battle I don’t know) to justify their behaviour. The price of being considerate is costly and exhausting.
I don’t need a more inclusive society. The emphasis on inclusiveness only perpetuates the differences and division. I need a more considerate society. I’m using ‘I’ instead of ‘we’ here because I am indeed only speaking for myself and because I want to be considerate to the different views of others.
For those who insist people with autism cannot feel, not just allegedly autistic individuals but it seems human beings of all kind and nature, are lacking empathy and have lost their ability to care and feel for another. Does our environment play a part in the apparent erosion of human values?
Stanley Milgram who studied the effects of urban living (and the very same psychologist who went on to conduct the infamous experiments on obedience to authority) once said, “City life, as we experience it, constitutes a continuous set of encounters with overload, and of resultant adaptations. Overload characteristically deforms daily life on several level, impinging on role performance, the evolution of social norms, cognitive functioning, and the use of facilities.”
Later on, he proposed, “The ultimate adaptation to an overloaded social environment is to totally disregard the needs, interests, and demands of those whom one does not define as relevant to the satisfaction of personal needs, and to develop highly efficient perceptual means of determining whether an individual falls into the category of friend or stranger… If a citizen attended to every needy person, if he were sensitive to and acted on every altruistic impulse that was evoked in the city, he could scarely keep his own affairs in order.”
This is not an academic commentary and I haven’t conducted any rigorous analysis or research into it but it is a thought-provoking proposition and if it is true and I believe there is a degree of truth in it, the price of being considerate is damn costly and devoid of adaptive value, perhaps talking about an inclusive society, as noble and ambitious as it sounds, seems like a more attainable goal.
Perhaps humans are being selectively considerate. What bewilders me sometimes is human beings can turn a blind eye to everyday injustices but when something really outrageous and out of the ordinary happens, they are shocked by the evil people can do, as though one has never given a thought to what is being sowed and reaped.
Do I believe that human beings are good and kind in nature? Yes, I do. However, I believe equally in a Chinese proverb which says 學好三年,學壞三日 which literally translates to mean it takes 3 years for a person to learn to do good but only 3 days for a good person to turn bad.
Good People, Jack Johnson
Where’d all the good people go? We got heaps and heaps of what we sow