Tuesday, October 8, 2013

'Breaking Bad's' R.J. Mitte talks disability, bullying and hope

From The Observer, the student-run, daily print and online newspaper serving Notre Dame and Saint Mary's.

Before R.J. Mitte’s Q&A session even ended, a line already stretched out of the Washington Hall theatre, down the stairs and almost out of the building, with everyone waiting for an opportunity to shake Mitte’s hand.

Best known for his role as Walter Jr. (or Flynn) of the Emmy-award-winning show “Breaking Bad,” Mitte came to campus Tuesday evening to discuss the effects of bullying as well as to advocate against cruelty toward the fellow man last night courtesy of SUB. Mitte expressed to students and all in attendance the true capability of humanity, of how he — as a man living with cerebral palsy — has fought to attain and remain in a position that few, disabled or otherwise, could ever hope to have.

Mitte talked about the popular series, which concluded Sunday evening, in addition to his anti-bullying message.

“I loved the finale. I thought it couldn’t have been any better. I really couldn’t … I think it ended perfectly. It ended the way it needed to end,” Mitte said.

However, anyone who watched the show knows that does not necessarily mean a series finale filled with a picture-perfect ending, where everyone lives a decent, modest life of simple happiness and innocence.

“This show was never going to have a happy ending. When you live in a world of violence, you come out to a world of violence. Once you start going down that slope, once you start getting in bed with these people, they won’t let you leave,” Mitte said.

Mitte is no stranger to violence. A victim of bullying ever since he was young, he had to endure the pain of having his feet stomped on and hand broken because of his cerebral palsy. Mitte insists that there are countless forms of bullying — be it physical, emotional, cyber, verbal or even the types that people will never see or hear about.

“When they do happen,” Mitte said, “people don’t realize the damaging effects — the long term effects — bullying has on people. Bullying only adds to what they’re dealing with on a daily basis. Eventually they’re going to retaliate. They’re not going to retaliate at the bully. They’re going to retaliate at the people they care about the most,” Mitte said.

However, Mitte understands that this is not an impossible problem to solve — people are available to help. Mitte considers himself lucky for having family and friends to go to battle with these bullying-victims. People are around that want to get involved.

Unfortunately, as Mitte says, for as many people who do want to get involved, there seem to be an alarmingly large number of people who will just watch.

“I remember, I was about 14 years old, and we were at a farmer’s market. This older woman, she fell, and these people were literally stepping over [her]. They wouldn’t help her out. She wasn’t asking for help, but she was lying down on the ground.” Mitte said.

Mitte was the lone person in the entire vicinity to take initiative; it was then, he says, that he realized that that was the world we lived in — where people will step over each other. People will not think about each other. And Mitte understands that this may be what people are inclined to do, to not do. Yet Mitte encourages people to be involved. Even if it may not be the easiest choice, Mitte implores people to get involved and offer their help.

“You see someone who’s getting picked on, that’s when you get involved,” Mitte said.

However, Mitte did not come to simply talk about sensitivity to those who may seem disabled; he also offered his wisdom on the capabilities of men and women, whether or not they are able-bodied. Mitte’s own battle has — and will continue to be — a life-long journey.

“I was 3 when I was diagnosed with my disability. I grew up dealing with OT (Occupational Therapy), speech therapy, all different types. Dealt with bullies, dealt with people telling me I wouldn’t amount to much — even my own father — and I’ve shown them. And at the end of the day, there’s one thing to remember; there’s another one. One more day, one more person trying to stop you, one more person trying to take what you have. The trick is to fight for what you believe in, to fight for what you have, to fight for who you surround yourself with,” Mitte said.

Mitte has fought hard, putting himself in a position to succeed, and cites his own drive and ambition as a reason for his success — a drive that is, according to him, characteristic of anyone with disabilities.

“People want to stand on their own two feet. It’s even more so with a disability. They’ve had so many people cutting them down, saying, ‘You can’t do this. Someone without a disability should be capable of 10 times more than someone with a disability. But the thing is, you see more people with a disability with lower options fighting for a better future. They actually are fighting to get what they need. Most people are not willing to fight for what they need,” Mitte said.

Mitte, however, has been fighting a continually long fight — for equality.

“Equality is the biggest fight. Disability, race, religion, no matter what it is: at the end of the day, equality is the biggest fight. Once you understand equality, once you have equality, there shouldn’t be any doubt. It’s one of those things that one problem can fix many,” Mitte said.

Mitte knows his fight isn’t going to end anytime soon, but he said it’s a fight worth fighting for, and it’s not one he’s going to give up on.

“Equality means respect. Respect is equality. When you have respect for people around you, without labeling, without seeing them as ‘the minority’: that’s equality. We all bleed the same blood. I’ve never seen a baby push someone away … Equality has been a fight for thousands of years. It will not be fixed over night. It will not be fixed by one voice. It will be fixed by thousands of voices. It will be fixed by multiple ideals, multiple people, multiple belief systems. That’s when we’ll have equality,” Mitte said.

As Mitte talked about these ideas and his hopes for the future — no matter how distant — a certain look in his eyes betrayed a wisdom and patient determination beyond his 21 years. No matter how long, no matter how distant — Mitte is willing to fight everyday.