07/16/2014 12:35 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Positive Attitude Is Much More Than A Smile

Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.

I was asked to write a blog post on the TED Talk, "I'm Not Your Inspiration, Thank You Very Much" by Stella Young. Stella is physically disabled and is in a wheelchair. She talks about how people with disabilities are considered to be an inspiration simply for existing. She believes this sets a lower standard for people with disabilities -- that just getting up in the morning makes them an inspiration, rather than having to earn that title, like anyone else.

I agree with her point, mostly. I first submitted a blog post about my son, Wil, who has Down syndrome, and his friend Seeger. Seeger treats Wil just as she would any of her friends with their own particular set of strengths and weaknesses. She is patient with him in areas where he might be slower than her, and she does not put up with him misbehaving, just as she would with any of her friends. He is special to her, because he is her friend, not simply because he has a disability.

I believe Wil and Seeger's story sends an important message. My hope was, through reading their story, people would understand that my son is served best by treating him as an individual, rather than putting him on a pedestal simply because he has special needs.

However, something kept nagging at me, but, I submitted the story anyway. I have three young kids, a job and I'm training for a marathon, so I told myself that I simply didn't have time to write another one. But, I did. I woke up early the next morning and started pouring out the thoughts that kept nagging at me. The story I really wanted to tell.

And, that is about Young's definition of a positive attitude. She made the point that a positive attitude doesn't really change anything. She called quotes like, "The only disability in life is a bad attitude" bullshit. She said that no matter how much smiling she did at a staircase, it would not change it into a ramp. She got her laugh, and she made her point, but I disagree that simply smiling at something is the definition of a positive attitude.

People with positive attitudes get mad, just like anyone else, and they don't spend their days with a smile plastered on their faces covering up their frustrations. A positive attitude is someone who is proactive, who finds a desire within themselves to create positive change. A person with a positive attitude in a wheelchair would not look at a staircase, with a big smile on his or her face and sit there willing it to change. That person would be ticked off! However, their positive attitude would fire up a desire within them to find a way to make a positive change to that situation, and they would take action.

People with bad attitudes are not different from people with positive attitudes simply because they wouldn't smile at a staircase. They would look up at that staircase and get ticked off just like the person with the positive attitude. The difference is, instead of finding the desire within them to create positive change, they would go around complaining about the injustice of it without doing a single thing to change it.

So, while I understand the point Young is trying to make about taking away the negative stigma from the word, "disability," I still strongly believe in the value of a positive attitude, and I don't want it to be thought of as simply smiling at things.

People with positive attitudes, disability or not, are those that truly earn the title of being inspiring. That is because they take action to create positive change. So, perhaps that quote should be changed to, "The only thing holding you back in life is a bad attitude."

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