Posted: Mar 18, 2013 8:00 AM
 
Recently, I learned about inspiration porn. It’s used to describe feel-good moments that go viral, such as a video spotlighting an underdog succeeding — or at least trying to succeed — and then being celebrated.

We're talking clips where an entire gymnasium leaps to its feet, cheering and chanting the underdog's name. Often, the underdog is an individual with a physical or intellectual disability.

Naysayers say inspiration porn is a way of making people feel better about themselves. It allows society to say, "See? The disabled don't have it so bad. Look at everyone cheering!" One naysayer calls it partial visibility.

I learned about a video gone viral out of El Paso, Texas, from an online discussion by parents of children with Down syndrome recently.

In this video, a high school basketball player passes the ball to a player on the opposing team named Mitchell. Words can never adequately describe the exchange, so please take a moment to watch.

Emotions hit home

I've always found such stories moving. For two minutes, I feel warm, fuzzy and damp from the tears that typically stream down my face.

Why do I get so emotional? My son, Charlie, has Down syndrome, which comes with intellectual and physical developmental delays. He could be Mitchell.

In many ways, Charlie is a typical, stubborn, meltdown-toting, vegetable-hurling, dog-tail-pulling, sister-smacking toddler.

As his mother, I am inspired by examples of what he might do one day and what others may help him do when I'm gone.

He just takes a little longer to catch up to his peers. He needs some extra help, extra patience and, well, just a little extra.

As his mother, I am inspired by examples of what he might do one day and what others may help him do when I'm gone.

In fact, inspiration porn gives me something to shoot for. Not the cheering, fanfare and viral-ness — but the individual accomplishment that crowns a team effort.

I understand naysayers' point, particularly a blogger who rebuffs the appearance of charity.

Create a lifetime of moments

For naysayers who dismiss moments of kindness as inspiration porn, we need to, as a society, build a timeline of moments. If we are constantly setting the scene for The Big Moment, then when the spotlight finally does shine on true kindness, we can point back to all the other moments that didn't go viral but that led to That One Really Big Moment.

Would that help? Could it be enough? Naysayers want to be assured that moments don't go viral just because people want to feel better by watching someone else take care of the disabled kid. They want to know that The Moment happened because everyone did all the right things leading up to it.

Life can't give us that. No one will ever make all the right decisions. No one will ever treat our children exactly the way they should be treated at every step.

Talk about life before The Moment

But what if we took each moment of inspiration porn and dissected it? What if we chose to talk with our children, our colleagues or our friends about why that moment matters because of what led up to it?

Did the team include him in every post-game celebration? Did a teammate help him get his jersey on before the game? Did another teammate high-five him before sprinting to the showers? Who taught him to dribble? Who taught him to shoot the ball? Who taught him to tie his own shoes? (Sorry, I just wanted a mom to be recognized in here somewhere.)

The problem is that some people can't see the light. They're distracted by what they choose to see instead: leg braces, slanted eyes, an insulin pump, a tantrum, a pout, one low grade on a spelling quiz.

Imagine that each child has a light burning brightly above his or her head. The children who are born with an extra challenge in life (autism, Down syndrome, dyslexia...) also have that light. The problem is that some people can't see the light. They're distracted by what they choose to see instead: leg braces, slanted eyes, an insulin pump, a tantrum, a pout, one low grade on a spelling quiz.

Any number of distractions can stop someone from reaching out to touch a child's life. When we do reach out, the combined light burns brighter and hotter.

Then, one day, a series of lights come together in a very poignant way, on a very public stage. Someone captures the explosion of light and shares its warmth and brilliance.

Tell me true kindness exists

Talk about why it took a lifetime of dominoed moments and melded lights to create something we all can recognize as inspiration.

Now, let's change how it's shared. Let's talk about what The Moment represents. Let's explain to our children why human achievement doesn't begin and end when a person with special needs shoots a ball. Talk about why it took a lifetime of dominoed moments and melded lights to create something we all can recognize as inspiration.

I have to trust that moments like Mitchell's happen on a smaller, quieter scale each day. I choose to believe those moments happen often and broadly.

To the naysayers who scowl when a feel-good story goes viral, please keep your cynicism to yourself. Please don't diminish what I choose to believe is just one moment of widespread happiness among millions of moments of good.

You let me have my porn, and I'll let you have yours.

Read more about special needs

Having a sibling with Down syndrome
How your parenting choices can make my children's lives easier
When strangers stare at children with special needs

Topics: