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Motivational Quotes and Disability: It's Complicated

“Push yourself, because no one else is going to do it for you.” –Anonymous

Quotes like this are problematic for the disabled community — for a multitude of reasons. Many of us already struggle to stop pushing beyond our limits, which can be especially difficult as those limitations often haven’t always been present, and for many can change day-to-day without warning. Also, many people with disabilities require help, and not just for activities that would be considered “enrichment” but for our very existence to continue.

Here’s the thing — and please hear me out to the end before canceling me — it’s not about us.

That quote, unless sent directly to us in a private message, or spoken at us in a conversation, really was never intended for the disabled community, and that is OK. If it does get directed at someone who clearly needs support and understanding, rather than motivation, then it should be called out as being completely inappropriate. Also, if you see something along those lines, and it makes you feel down instead of inspired, opening a dialogue with the person sharing it could be an option that could grant both parties perspective. In some cases, it wasn’t meant for you, and that doesn’t make it exclusionary or ableist.

What I notice most often is that someone sees one of these “motivational quotes” on a billboard, public forum, business wall, an acquaintance’s Facebook page, etc., and then they get upset because the quote isn’t true for them. But different people respond to different stimuli. There is a reason these quotes are so popular. They make a lot of people feel good. In my opinion, being ableist doesn’t mean making a broad statement that doesn’t apply to certain people who have a disability. It would, however, be ableist to direct a statement towards someone that belittled them, their struggle, or their disability.

Personally, the idea of it not being about me was a very freeing one. I grew up very soft-hearted, but quick-tempered, and while I have mellowed with age, it is certainly fair to say there are still those tendencies within me. Being in an upset state of mind is not helpful for mental or physical health. Clearly, you should absolutely stand up for yourself when needed, and feeling upset is valid, regardless of the situation, because feelings happen, often even when we ourselves don’t want them to. However, I certainly get upset less when remembering that sometimes that thing I heard or read was meant as a positive for someone else and not a jab at me.

To be fair, and completely transparent, if you choose to adopt this perspective, it can backfire now and again when people try to encourage you.

For example:

I was on my way to Madison WI from the town in Arkansas where I grew up when a severe winter storm hit, and we had to turn back. We were making the trip for my third or fourth brain surgery, and I remember feeling so frustrated because it had been such a long and difficult process to get it scheduled. I’d been waiting nearly a year for this appointment, and now we had to reschedule. As a person of faith, someone from my church said, “God must have known that something wasn’t right, and sent you back home. This is for the best.” I believe in God, and I believe that he desires good things for his children (which in my opinion is everyone), but I don’t think a severe storm hit 250,000+ people to keep me home. I’m not that important. Which leaves me with the rather meaningless frustration of my surgical delay.

I will say this though, remembering that “it’s not about me” has saved me more frustration than it has caused, and by no small measure.