Self-definition has serious implications on social relationships. By describing how you want others to view you, it prescribes a judgement to the way in which you allow people to analyse your character. It gives others an opportunity to form a bias, and certain words come with stigmas attached which can be both upsetting and politically incorrect.
However, in a recent UGM motion, a student wished to change the YUSU constitution so that we wouldn’t have to self-define as disabled in order to run for YUSU Disability Officer. Some have objected to the motion, saying that non-disabled people won’t understand the emotional and physical issues or constraints behind being disabled.
This is not necessarily true. It is within the human condition for most people (and it should be hoped that an individual wouldn’t run as a joke candidate for a position concerning sensitive and personal issues) to empathise with others, particularly when they are in what is generally viewed to be a disadvantaged position.
Empathy provided us with this particular UGM motion
Empathy provided us with this particular UGM motion, not sympathy. The difference between the two mindsets is that one provides compassion, whereas the other provides only a condescension and degradation of the group in question.
Amy McKessy, who proposed the motion, said that it “segregates rather than integrates” disabled from non-disabled people. Self-definition, rather than destroying barriers, creates them. It allows stereotyping to become socially acceptable, and in so doing, creates a valid excuse for being harsh and prejudiced. It imposes characteristics on an individual, and even though those qualities are self-inflicted, sometimes unforeseen consequences arise which inadvertently plunge the person into various negative associations.
We must recognise that there is the capacity for a distinct lack of understanding (as seen by the joke candidates running for Women’s Officer this year), and it is a shame that the UGM motion did not reach quoracy. It has therefore been neither passed or rejected, because not enough people voted on it. Empathy is a fantastic virtue to hold, enabling understanding and friendships to develop, and it can only be to our own detriment if we do not allow this to be expressed within student democracy.