When I’m much much older, when my hearing is failing me, when complete incontinence has finally caught up with me, making me smell like a gas station toilet, when I can no longer keep up with my unibrow and the hairs growing out of my nose and ear, when I reach that point that Sean Connery recently crossed (“Sean Connery sure is aging well. He’s a handsome older man.” “Have you seen him recently?” “No.” “Here, look at this.” “Yikes! Who stole Sean Connery and replaced him with an ancient leathery elf creature?”)…please, for the love of all that is good and right and humane in the world, please talk to me like a fucking adult human. Please don’t telegraph your speech. (“Papa…want…more…pizza!?” “Oh Pappy…you need…diappy change.”) Don’t reduce your rate, raise your pitch as if communicating with a puppy, make every statement an excited question by increasing your pitch and volume on the final word (“You…have…to take…SHOWER!?”), and talk to me like a piss-soaked alien just arrived from the galaxy of dementia. Really…talk to me like you prefer being talked to. Don’t talk to me in a way that, if anyone spoke to you in a similar fashion, you’d deliver an immediate and deserved throat punch. If I tell you the same story again and again and again…dammit listen to it and respond as if it is the first time. Or, try once to remind me, kindly if you don’t mind, that I’ve already told this story. If your first attempt works, lovely. You win. If not…back off and let me explain (again) how I once ran straight into a standing herd of Zebra while jogging in Kenya. (I mean, c’mon! That’s a cool fucking story, right? You can handle that a handful of times, right? Ask new questions, take a different angle…perhaps you’ll get additional facts from me.)
Near me are two middle-aged women with their Mother. I assume that, at least. If I hadn’t walked by the three I might have assumed they were talking to a limited-verbal child with an intellectual disability. (And I’ll tell you…I wouldn’t even talk to a limited-verbal child with an intellectual disability this way. Perhaps for another day…how I’m also driven to drink by the way supposed professionals interact with children with disabilities and uniquenesses that makes them different than the boring lot of the rest of us.)
I’m not angry at these women…not really. But, there’s just no reason to talk to and treat a person like a feeble child. I believe that somewhere deeply embedded in the frontal cortex, even the oldest, deafest, slowest, most impacted individuals have a sense of self-worth and self-identity and don’t want to be treated like completely incompetent human anchors. Really. I see the distant looks. The fact that people who are treated this way generally don’t give visual regard (eye gaze) and don’t travel with even the spirit of pep or enthusiasm. I think we can infuse enthusiasm, provide love, and communicate authentically by quite simply treating people like (…drum roll, please…) people. In the inclusion community we often say, “assume competence.” What’s the worst that can happen? The person doesn’t understand you? The person doesn’t do what you expect? That’s it. But if we assume incompetence, we are assuredly going to get incompetence…and/or anger…and/or depression…and/or frustration.
So please…take me by the elbow…gently, pretend that I don’t smell like stale urine cakes and uncleansed dentures, make sure my zipper’s up, turn to me and talk to me, laugh at me, ask about details about whatever in the hell I’m relating…for the 14th time, and nod like you give a shit. Quality of life is the only thing that matters.