A New Hampshire lawmaker resigned Monday amid criticism for suggesting to a constituent that the state ship people with disabilities to Siberia.
Rep. Martin Harty, a 91-year-old first-term Republican in the state’s House of Representatives, drew fire after it became public that he told a constituent that “the world is too populated” with “too many defective people.”
“I wish we had a Siberia so we could ship them all off to freeze to death and die and clean up the population,” Harty continued, according to the constituent’s account. He specified that he was referring to “the mentally ill, the retarded, people with physical disabilities and drug addictions.”
When questioned about the comments last week, Harty was unapologetic and told the Concord Monitor that he was “just kidding.”
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You're thinking, this is just the ramblings of some crazy old man. That's what I thought. But who are we to judge this man? We don't know him -- his mental state -- his history. If we pass him off as a harmless, senile old man, are we not, in some way, following his lead? Perhaps he is in complete possession of his faculties, and really holds the beliefs he espoused.
What's really scary about this incident is that an entire legislative district (or at least, the majority of it) saw this 91-year-old as the right person to speak for them in their state's legislature. That such ideas could exist today is truly frightening -- and eye opening. Was 1939 so long ago that we are insulated from the evils of marginalizing, objectifying, and exterminating our fellow man?
Then again, maybe he was "just kidding."
Is each of us guilty of his kind of thinking in our own small (or big) ways? We see a homeless man drinking from a paper bag. We fill in his life story in our own mind: he's lazy, a drunk, crazy, a thief, a doper. He's not like us, and damn, we could never be him...we convince ourselves. At least it gets us to the next block.
Maybe those things are true. I'm not suggesting we should give the guy our wallets; but compassion is free. A little warm food never got anyone drunk, or high. Whatever action we take or don't take is a choice made in the moment, and I certainly won't claim to know the right answer. But I know we can't judge them, or turn away, sending them to Siberia in our own heart.
Say we pass a person on the street, and we just know they have to be gay. Our gay-dar is highly tuned to such things, and we've got this one pegged! Why do we even have a gay-dar? What are we afraid of? Why do we need to decide whom people are without even trying to get to know them. Again, not suggesting you strike up a conversation; shoot, they'd be thinking you were the kook. But we can't know for sure how a person lives their life, or how they got to where they are, so it's a bad idea to attempt a guess.
If we see a profoundly disabled person, do we talk down to them? Patronize them? Treat them like children? I've been guilty of such an approach...and been the recipient of it. We can't know what kind of beauty, intelligence and humanity is hiding inside that deformed visage. Would you talk down to Stephen Hawking, if you didn't know he was among the most brilliant minds of our time?
Growing up, I had a friend who was...well, less than masculine. I never thought of him as gay or straight. It never crossed my mind; we were just best friends. In the months after I told him that our family was moving away, we both went silent. We didn't exchange a word, and there was never so much as a "see ya." Our family moved and that was it -- I'd lost my best friend.
I think we went silent in those final months because we were both fifteen, and knew it marked the end of our childhood. We were both what you might call "misfits" in school, and maybe we each judged the other as a traitor for leaving us without that one connection. Besides, we probably figured we could renew our friendship after I moved across town.
We never did.
I learned something from him, about judging, about the value of best friends, and friends in general. Then, many years later, I learned that death is not a "lifestyle choice." You can't always choose who you are: you have to accept yourself "as is." And sometimes acceptance has unforeseeable consequences.
Wouldn't it be great if we could set aside judgments and treat people with the respect they deserve, at least until they prove they don't deserve it. And maybe we could worry less about labeling people. After all, our labels might be stuck to the wrong person.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that we shouldn't be too quick to trust our own judgment, when it comes to our fellow man. While we're wishing someone or some group was removed from society, someone out there might be wishing the same thing about us. Then...who's left?
Just FYI: I don't do well in cold climates.