-- Unidentified language researcher at a conference on language and evolution
Ironically, I think it's human nature to dehumanize and demote people in our own minds when we feel threatened by them or lack understandstanding of them. It's extremely comforting to separate ourselves from people who are different because we don't have to face seeing ourselves in them. Different can be scary. I am guilty of letting fear keep me from seeing the people around me as clearly as I should have in the past.
People have been persecuted and dehumanized for centuries for their gender, their religion, their sexual orientation, the color of their skin, their disabilities, or even having a devastating disease. Sadly, the world does not seem to have drastically changed from the days of witch hunts and the Holocaust. We are still living in the Dark Ages in many ways in a world of hate crimes, "ethnic cleansing," and genocide. Children are taught that it's okay to bully other children by their own parents. And that seed is so easily planted when nothing is said and that behavior is silently tolerated.
The more I read about Williams syndrome and autism, the more I realize how young these diagnoses are and how little is really known about the brain. I was horrified to discover that many brilliant people making great strides in scientific research seem to lack a basic sense of compassion for their subjects of study because they consider them just that -- subjects. One researcher placed autistic children in the same group as "robots and chimpanzees," stripping away the human component entirely. Maybe they are afraid to reveal how much of these disorders is a mystery to themselves and reveal themselves as human. Maybe a sense of detachment is one of the ingredients of being a great researcher. I know that the geneticist that confirmed my fears that rainy March day last year lacked anything remotely resembling compassion. I had no doubt the man was brilliant, but he obviously had his nose in a book the majority of his life. These days I find comfort in reading about researchers like Ursula Bellugi, who seem to be able to maintain a human connection with their subjects of study and treat them with dignity and respect.
Maybe it's just hard for me to admit my precious child is one plane ticket away from being the subject of a study at all.
To me, having no compassion is not human.