Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Prejudice

Prejudice."An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts. A preconceived preference or idea."

Not something any of us would strive for, whether psychological, social, political or religious and yet we are all, every last one of us guilty of prejudice in many ways. OK, not extreme "racism", "sexism" etc that we all associate with the definition, but who doesn't make a premature judgement, hold a positive or negative attitude based on beliefs not facts at some point?

And where do you draw the line? Are you prejudiced for refusing to listen to a band's new album because you disliked the last an the lead singer has had recent bad press? Or swapping seats on the tube because the person next to you is drunk? We all make assumptions based on experience all the time. About pretty much everything.

"Prejudice is the glass through which most things are seen and judged."
Edward Counsel

Usually though, prejudice is harmless, expected and actually useful as we seek to make sense of our environment and protect ourselves from potentially unpleasant or even dangerous circumstances. What I am weary of is prejudice with a capital "P".

I have recently had a discussion online, once again, about medicating children with mental health issues - be it ADHD, anxiety etc. It is a challenging topic to discuss, not least because the vast majority choosing to discuss it are rarely well informed or experienced, and mostly because by supporting occasional, regulated medicating of under eighteens you are immediately seen as some pill pushing liberal who would try and medicate her kids for any little thing.

The Daily Mail has had a busy week already. I'll leave the discussion of Carly Cole and the "baby whisperer" in the Daily Mail to this excellent Blog reply although I could happily oblige. What really caught my eye, and not directly, was the tragic story someone linked to on an "Autism Support Forum" of a ten year old boy who killed himself. not a DM reader, such articles only come to my attention if they wind someone else up, usually via Facebook, but this time someone was actually citing the article for seemingly pointing out how wrong it is to medicate young children for disorders of the brain.

As I wrote at length here ADHD is not merely "boisterous behaviour" and medicating it is not merely sedation but Daily Mail readers do prefer simplified explanations. There ensued below the offending post a long discussion on parents "boasting" that they collected benefits for medicating their children, that there were "always alternatives" and poor parenting was to blame. The prejudice was almost palpable...

Oh the irony - and apparent hypocrisy - since only a couple of threads further down everyone had posted very supportive replies to the mother whose child had been prevented from playing with another because of prejudice. The child in question had Autism and their behaviour was seen as unpleasant. HOW can people not see the double standard? Any challenge from me was rebutted with "you obviously have a bee in your bonnet", to "not all parents are as comfortable about medicating their children". As those who have never had to go through what we and so many other parents have struggled with on a daily basis gave their opinions, I was reminded we were "all in this together" as if online togetherness legitimises Prejudice.

But it's not so much seeing "both sides", those who may "brag" about benefits etc are a tiny minority I would assume, but understanding the condition. If there were a pill to medicate for Autism, remove 90% of the behaviours who here wouldn't be tempted to try it? I would. When you have lived with severe ADHD on TOP of ASD and several other conditions AND have two others with complicated medical needs I think you do see the "bigger picture" - you live it every day. And how is medicating an issue with the brain using unlicensed medication any different from using medication licensed only for adults on children to treat asthma, or gastro conditions like our children? Can you really see much interest in an article based on those?

So next time you see a person with a child who appears fully mobile using a Blue Badge, the older child having a toddler tantrum in the supermarket, the child with a feeding tube who is eating enthusiastically... pause for thought before making assumptions. Likewise, as guilty as the next person of prejudice I am going to challenge myself before leaping to conclusions in areas in which I lack knowledge. My biggest problem as my friends will know is jumping in when in a hurry rather than taking the time (I don't have) to ponder!

We are all familiar with publicised and widely acknowledged prejudice but the popular, unchallenged assumptions we make all too frequently should always be challenged. The only way you can understand someone else's situation is to be them - without that inside knowledge we can only offer subjective opinion, which is still valid and useful, but should be acknowledged as such.

"It is natural to develop prejudices. It is noble to rise above them."
Or my favourite quote from a Winston advertisement:-

"You can judge me all you want, just keep your opinions to yourself" .

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