Kick Up, Not Down

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P_Tanya

There are few things more stressful in life than getting on a bus with a stroller and a baby. Job interviews? Public speeches? They have nothing on the stress of folding your stroller with one hand, holding your baby with the other hand, holding your shopping (presumably with the third hand you brought with you for such occasions), trying to persuade your toddler not to lick the seat recently vacated by a man of questionable hygiene, and paying your fare with your teeth.

Now, at least, it is easier than the days when you always had to fold up your stroller: there are dedicated spots on buses for strollers. The only problem is this: if there is a wheelchair user on a bus, you are supposed to give them priority and surrender your seat.

Last year, in the UK, there was a case of a mother who refused to give up her stroller space to a wheelchair user. Disability groups were outraged: the spaces on buses were originally designated solely for wheelchair users, as a result of disabled people chaining themselves to buses to fight for the right to travel on public transport. It was clear both in law and in common decency that the mother should have collapsed her stroller and ceded the space to a wheelchair user.

And yet there was a backlash from parents, expressing sympathy for the mother in question. Some parents said they would be so unwilling to ask for help from the able-bodied passengers on the bus that they would, like the mother in question, refuse to move. Others said they would not ask for help to fold up their stroller, but would get off the bus instead. In the papers, some started encouraging parents to stand their ground against disabled people.

On one level, I understand it. As a wheelchair user I know firsthand how hard it is to ask others for help—because I have to do it all the time. Asking puts you in a vulnerable position, and the sighs and eye rolls, or even flat-out refusal of able-bodied people is hard to take when you are already battling to keep your emotions together. Disabled people have to ask others for help all the time—and it is hard.

What puzzled me at the time was the direction of the argument. A significant minority of stressed and weary parents would prefer to take power away from some of the most vulnerable in society, rather than ask for help themselves.

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We do this all the time. If we feel a lack of power, we take it out on those who have even less power than us. We kick down, not up. If we have a stressful day at work and our boss yells at us, we get cranky with our children.

We kick down in society. Who caused the economic crisis of 2008? My mathematics skills are somewhat limited, but I’m pretty sure that it was the fault of rogue traders and greedy bankers. And yet, in the UK at least, the focus soon shifted from the banks and rich tax evaders to those dependant on welfare benefits: the poor, migrants and refugees, the unemployed, sick or disabled. Subtly the blame for our current recession has been transferred to those who are most powerless in our society.

If the newspapers are to be believed, it is work-shy people who are pretending to be disabled whilst jumping in a pool in Tenerife who are to be blamed for the country’s money difficulties, and cutting their welfare support is seen as the solution.

Meanwhile, the bankers are counting their million pound bonuses.

We should be kicking up, blaming the bankers, reigning them in, keeping them accountable—but we kick down. Hate crime against disabled people in the UK is at its highest level since records began—because disabled people are now seen as benefit scroungers.

Why do we kick down? Perhaps because it is hard to challenge those in power. Perhaps because when we feel helpless, we want to exert our authority, and the easiest way of doing that is to pick on those who have less power than us.

There is nothing new here. Even in Job’s day, sick and poor people were blamed for their situation. When Job is unable to work with chronic illness, Job’s friends attack him like hyenas, proclaiming that his suffering proves his sin. In their eyes, he is clearly at fault. Meanwhile, Job, in his wisdom, kicks upwards—he rails against God, the most powerful being. He knows the situation is not just, and he appeals to the one with the most power: a God of justice.

When Jesus came, he spoke words of kindness to those who were powerless in that society: the foreigner, those who were disabled and unemployed, women, children. He didn’t blame them for the corruption of society. Jesus kicked upwards: he overturned tables in the temple and preached angry words against the leaders who were exploiting the poor and vulnerable. It didn’t make him popular, but it did make him just.

On days when we worry about our financial or job security, it is a really natural reaction to want to kick down.

Perhaps we should kick up, instead, asking for help and justice from those around us—whether that’s to bystanders on buses, bosses of bosses, financial, spiritual or national leaders. Like Job, we can join with the long tradition of believers who cry, “How long, O Lord?” and kick up our prayers to the One with all power and authority and justice.

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Tanya Marlow
Tanya Marlow was in Christian ministry for a decade and a lecturer in Biblical Theology, until she got sick, and became a writer. She loves singing opera arias, eating dark chocolate and laughing at her own jokes. (Not at the same time). She is the author of Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty, and writes honestly about God, suffering and the messy edges of life at Thorns and Gold. Find her on Twitter @Tanya_Marlow or Facebook, and  get her book for FREE here.
Tanya Marlow