Wheelchair Dancer had a recent post where she was musing aloud about why a neighbor might keep refusing various opportunities “because she is a quad”. WCD and those commenting raised a variety of interesting possibilities to answer that question. It’s both a thoughtful and thought-provoking post, and reminded me of similar issues that I have encountered over the years. (What I am describing may or may not be the same kind of situation as what Wheelchair Dancer’s neighbor is dealing with.)
Granted, we all have limitations. Some of have have more limitations, and some of us have different limitations than most people. And yet, we have all encountered those people who get “stuck” on their limitations, well beyond the whole (initial) phase of learning to accept and cope with whatever the causes and effects are from those disabilities. They keep talking about what they CAN’T DO, not just as a practical reference to “no, that won’t work for me,” but as refutation to suggestions for a number of ordinary or alternative activities.
Trying to earnestly offer suggestions to such entrenched Can’t-Do frequently falls flat in a conversational game of “Yes-But”, leaving one feeling frustrated and eventually rather disinclined to continue offering suggestions.
Once in a while I run into this kind of thing with a tutee or student. It’s hard to tell if the “Can’t-Do” attitude results from general discouragement, from a perceived need to “prove” to others the reality of the issues, from a need for sympathy (no matter how spiritually un-nourishing that may be), from a perceived lack of options, or possibly even a sort of passive-aggressive form of work avoidance where constantly playing Yes-But and being a victim of circumstance is easier than actually getting anything done.
In any regard, after a while I realised that too many conversations end up in those same dreary circles. I was sick of trying to be assertively positive and encouraging the student, and of offering suggestions that kept getting dismissed because of this-that-or the other thing. Not only could I not “solve” their problems for them, they would not let me.
I finally got tired of that routine, and decided to lob the conversational ball back into the student’s side of the court, because after all, the responsibility ultimately lies with the student. In an effort to disengage from the fatiguing interpersonal games, I stepped sideways out of the dance and changed my questions and responses. For example:
“Yes, I understand you can’t do that; you have explained several times. What I need for you to do is to tell me what you can do.”
“Okay, instead of telling me about everything you don’t understand, let’s start back with the part that you do understand, and work from there.”
“You have been telling me about what people have been giving you that doesn’t work. Now, it would be more effective for you to tell me what does work that will enable you to succeed at this.”
Generally the person is so entrenched in their Can’t-Do habits that it takes several rounds of repeated querying to get out of the conversational rut. At some point, the student either begins to rally and start coming up with small bits of positives that can be built upon (lots and lots of baby-steps to break out of that entrenched mind-set), or else one eventually realises that the student is being steadfastly resistant.
At that point, it’s ultimatum time. It’s nothing personal. I just lay out the situation objectively, and explain the choices and consequences.
“Okay, what do you need to do to pass this class?” (Get a concrete, detailed answer related to grades on assignments and tests.) “You can here for tutoring as part of what you can do to achieve those goals. Telling me what you can’t do does not help us get where we need to be. If you want assistance in the material, then you need to work with the various teachers and tutors. I cannot help you unless you can focus on what you do know, what does work for you, and what I can do with you. Okay, for the next text, you need to know these definitions, and be able to answer the questions in the study guide. Where do you want to start?”
If after all that the student still spends the tutoring sessions complaining and not making progress, then I discuss the situation with the tutoring director, who may in turn give the student several options. One of those options may include suggesting revisiting medical or physical therapy services. Another may be scheduling with counselling services, as students who keep refusing to find solutions may not only not pass classes or graduate, but also will have problems with employment and relationships. There are a variety of different reasons why someone would (unconsciously) sabotage their social or work successes, but identifying and resolving those go beyond the world of teaching into the realm of therapy.
The good news is that such resistant students are very rare. Usually when people with various disabilities get stuck on Can’t-Do, they are either repeating the diminished expectations they grew up hearing, or are still in the early part of disability where the level of understanding has not gone beyond Can’t-Do into Do-Differently. Sometimes it takes persistent reassurance and similarly-challenged peers to model that such goals can be achieved.
Whining once in a while may be cathartic, but it won’t get you far — for success you’re gonna need chutzpah*.
* Chutzpah: Yiddish for audacity or nerve