A freshman is disappointed when her socially conscious friend mocks a disabled girl in their class.
Try showing her how to behave, suggests our elder.
I’m a 15-year-old girl in my freshman year and the incident that I need advice on happened to two girls my same age. One of them is my friend. I recently got to know her and the one word to best describe her is ‘extreme’, as she takes everything to the max and is a very over-the-top person. One of the things that get her going is politics and she’s a very strong supporter of LGTBQ+ and transgender rights. She’s very socially conscious and she genuinely cares about these issues, which is something I like about her.
Naturally, I expected her to be in support of mentally disabled people as well, but today in history I was shocked. We have a developmentally disabled girl in our class. Although she sometimes shouts or butts in on a conversation, she is actually very sweet and incredibly smart, so imagine my surprise when she joined my friend and me in a group of three and my friend flipped out. She texted me ‘B***** I put you on the other side of the room for a reason’ which revealed to me for the first time that, when she had designed the seating chart for our class, she had put the other girl as far as possible from her. I was speechless but I thought that she was just in a bad mood until she texted ‘at least I talk normally and don’t shout and have a brain’ after I called her out over text for saying that.
After that, she just maintained a snippy attitude with the other girl so I talked to her once class was over and told her that she should be more patient with disabled people. She admitted that she was being mean but just brushed the issue off and seemed confused when I said I was disappointed in her. So here comes the question; how should I approach this issue with her? It’s something that’s weighing on me and we have to see this girl four times a week so it’s probably going to come up again. I believe that my friend is a good person and that she just needs to get to know people before making assumptions or judging them but I have no idea how to tell her that. We only recently became friends so if we got into a fight, it might mean the end of our (still cooking) friendship. This issue also hits close to home as there was a period of time when I believed I had a mild version of autism (I still have no idea, but I stopped worrying and embraced myself, whether I have it or not). I’d really appreciate some advice right now, but please don’t tell me to find new friends. I know that the advice to drop her would be said with good intentions, but it’s not one of my options right now. Thanks, and I’m sorry that this letter is so long!
Our friends don’t have to be perfect to be our friends. We all have our flaws, and you just discovered a big one in your new friend. Given her strong support for the rights of others, you were of course disappointed by way she treated a classmate with a disability. You did exactly the right thing: you let your friend know that you were disappointed in her behavior. Although she did not disagree with you when you told her that she had been mean to the girl, you do not feel that she is likely to change her behavior toward her in the future. You really like your new friend and don’t want to end the friendship over this; you believe she is a good person and you want you to help her to view this girl as the human being she is: to see her as a whole person instead of just seeing her disability.
I think that the best way for you to do this is by showing not telling. Instead of telling your friend that you disapprove of her behaviour—which might lead to a fight—try treating this girl with respect and kindness whenever she is around. In doing this, you will be modeling the right way to behave for your friend. When she says something mean either to this girl or about her, you can wince or shake or head “no,” or say, “That’s mean.” If you do this, your friend will not feel comfortable behaving judgmentally around you.
If you do not do or say something when your friend acts this way, she will feel safe acting mean to this girl around you. She may even think you agree with her. But if you make her feel a little uncomfortable by acting friendly toward the girl, your friend may feel a little ashamed of behaving cruelly around you—without you ever having to say anything to her. If she asks you why you are so nice to this girl, you can tell her what you told me—that she is “ very sweet and incredibly smart” and that it is not her fault that she shouts out and butts in sometime.
I think it is very mature of you not to judge your friend but to want to help to overcome her prejudice instead. You sound like a very good friend and a very nice person.
I hope this helps. And remember we are always here if you or any of your friends ever need any advice in the future.
Letter #: 421830