Last month, I accompanied three Special Gathering members and our South Carolina Special Gathering program director on a Disney cruise. It was a great time of fun and fellowship. At 6 feet 4 inches, one of the members, Tony, is the “gentle giant” that usually lives in a mythical land. He literally runs from confrontation and arguments.
Tony’s size commands attention. He is developmentally disabled, excitable; and he gets loud when he is excited. His voice is as high-pitched as his body is tall and broad. The entire package means a large, large man who has a female voice who speaks loud and excited.
During the cruise, we were able to play an onboard mystery game. The object of the game was to find, arrest the criminal and recover stolen property. You discover clues by going from place to place on the ship uncovering the clues from different pictures hanging on the wall. As we were beginning our game, a group of older, middle school teenagers were in front of us. Understandably, they were a bit startled by Tony’s large size and shrill voice. Unfortunately, the fun-making began. They were not laughing with Tony but AT him. Tony heard and understood but chose to ignore them.
As we traveled throughout the boat gathering clues, we seemed to be with them each time we landed at a clue station. After about four encounters, their rudeness and laughter became more and more hateful. Finally, when they stepped out the door to the outside, I followed them.
In my calmest and most pleasant voice, I called to them. They turned and faced me still enjoying their latest joke about Tony. Their visages carried the smart-aleck smirks that only young people discovering themselves can muster. Again, attempting to be more than pleasant, I tried to marshal up my most syrupy, vocal tones, “You know, my friend was born with his disabilities. He had no choice in the way he acts. He cannot help the way he looks or acts. You, on the other hand, have chosen to be rude. You weren’t born that way. You can change. You don’t have to be rude.”
Their smirks changed to indignant wonder that someone who would dare to confront them. However, one young man’s face blanched with genuine shame. He fixed his eyes on his sneakers.
There are ongoing questions about how to treat rudeness from the public when leaders are with our members. One school of thought says, “Ignore.” Another says, “Confront.” I probably fall on both sides of fence, depending on the situation. I would have ignored these young people had they quickly tired of their sickening jokes. Yet, because their bad behavior continued to accelerate, I wanted to let them know that they were being inappropriate. Therefore, I confronted them about their actions.
Titus says, “Do not allow anyone to despise you.” I looked into the nuances of the Greek in that passage. The translation is very clear. It simply means, “Do not allow anyone to despise you.” All people have times when we are faced with the bad behavior from others aimed at us. How we face these times may each be different depending on the circumstances. Yet, there are times that we must stand up and say to another person, “You weren’t born rude. You can change.”