Respecting "I can't"

Published on
May 30, 2020
Time to read: 
4 office colleagues at table around a laptop
This image is courtesy of Thank you to photographer Andrea Piacquadio The image is of positive diverse coworkers using a laptop in an office. They vary in age, gender, skin tones and abilities.

This morning, after listening to the bird song coming in the open kitchen windows, and writing my list of things I want to accomplish this weekend and next week, I thought to myself “I can’t write a blog post for this week.”

This thought reminded me of a tweet thread from @Autistictic about respecting #disabled people when they tell you that they can’t do something. What struck me this morning was that many people rush to say “of course you can….” when what we should be doing is asking how we can help. Or matching people with skills that complement each other, so that the team succeeds.
People generally know what they can and can’t do. They also know when doing something results in negative consequences. An example that many people can relate to is pushing yourself too hard, to meet an important deadline at work, which results in spending all weekend too tired to do the things you’d normally do. For a disabled person, this could literally mean needing time to recover from the negative consequences of pushing yourself too hard. We don’t know what someone else is experiencing.

Admitting that you can’t do something puts most people in a vulnerable state. Let’s respect people who tell us “I can’t” and take the time to learn how to help, or how to connect them with those who can help. Let’s avoid the impulse of saying things along the lines of “of course you can, if only you tried harder!”

As @Autistictic points out there is a difference between “I can’t do this.” and “I can’t do this without suffering negative consequences.“ My retweet comment read in part “One of the lessons I've learned on Twitter is that we must be cognizant of the effect our language has on others. I choose to learn and be more aware, to be able to communicate with respect.”

Respect people who admit that they can’t do something, and seek ways to help them. Even if all you can do is make a supportive comment such as “that must be difficult.”

That’s it, this week’s blog.
I’m grateful that I have the privilege to live, learn, work and play on traditional Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee territory. I’m grateful to share these lands with Indigenous peoples from many First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities.  I’m grateful to be able to learn from people around the world.  I’m grateful to have the opportunity to learn how to communicate more respectfully.

If you’re interested in learning more from @Autistictic or follow them on Twitter or YouTube.