Hat tip to Michael Scott Monje Jr for writing the line that led me to this train of thought.
The title sentence is something that’s been ringing in my head ever since I first read the linked poem, and it was hard at first to find the right words to explain why. But now I think I have.
Autistic and disabled people in general do others a grave disservice when we assume they’re ignorant in spite of evidence to the contrary. We do them the same disservice we protest against when it’s done to us. We presume them incompetent. We presume others incompetent of knowing and meaning what they say.
It’s wrong of us to do that. And we hurt ourselves to do that. By educating a brick wall over and over and over again, we waste our own time, energy and spoons. Those of us with PTSD have triggered flashbacks in themselves. People with mental and chronic illnesses have triggered flareups. Others, myself included, have triggered meltdowns.
We need to stop.
We need to accept that someone might know that what they say is harmful, know that it’s hurtful, know that it’s wrong, and not care. We need to accept that someone might know the full impact of what they’re saying, and mean it. We need to presume that others are competent to form harmful, bigoted opinions and to act on them in bullying and abusive ways. Even if they are otherwise seemingly-nice people.
We need to presume competence. We need to presume that others are capable of educating themselves, capable of thoughtful self-evaluation, and capable of changing. And, as a corollary of the prior, we need to presume that if they do not after being given ample opportunity and in the absence of some reason why they can’t, it is not because they haven’t been educated enough, but rather because they choose not to.
I will no longer presume that people who act in abusive and bullying ways after being asked to stop have simply not been asked in the right way. I will have more respect for them than that. I will presume competence, and realize that they mean to hurt, they mean what they say, and they are choosing to behave that way. People can choose to be mean.
Presuming competence must go both ways.