One of the things I love about writing is that it helps me organize and connect the many thoughts, facts, emotions and analysis scurrying around in my head. Basically, it helps me make sense of the world as I’m experiencing it.
Sometimes these connections happen while I’m working on an essay, but other times they solidify after I’ve already posted, often through follow-up conversations and comments people post.
There were definitely some reactions from friends and readers regardling my last post on my recent travels. Through these conversations, I came to some realizations.
First, I’d like to bring up the woman from my book study, the one who didn’t like to look at the blind speaker on our weekly videos because of the speaker’s lack of eye contact. I want to make sure not to demonize her or even her comment, for that matter. While her comment was startling and hard to hear, I think that we’re all uncomfortable with certain characteristics and disabilities at times.
I must admit that I have never been able to eat meals in nursing homes because my gag reflex literally goes off when I see toothless folks gum at their food. I also find myself uncomfortable around people with severe mental disabilities, such as Downs Syndrome. I try to act friendly and nonchalant in my interactions with them, but often while nervously drumming my fingers and shifting uncomfortably, ready for the interaction to be over.
In my subjective, unscientific opinion, I see two main reasons we as humans feel uncomfortable around certain people:
1. We can’t relate to them, which causes us to feel sorry for them and guilty for not having to deal with the challenges they do.
I’ve actually done some subjective experiments in which I’ve used different words when asking for assitance at stores.
I have found that when I use language such as “blind” or “visually impaired”, these terms can sometimes act as isolating words. People immediately feel bad, their brain-wheels start spinning with questions, and they don’t know what to say. I’ve tried a little experiment recently in which I simply said, “Oh sorry– can you read that tag for me? I forgot my glasses!” to store clerks. They immediately jumped in to help and almost always added a comment such as, “Oh my gosh, I totally understand– I am blind as a bat in the morning without my glasses!” I found that they were more eager to help, more at ease and therefore tended to chat with me more comfortably.
Since using my cane more, I probably won’t be doing this experiment often (I don’t think many people who forget their glasses carry canes!), but I do find it telling.
OR (my second reason we feel uncomfortable around certain people)
2. Part of us relates to them a little too much, which causes us to feel irritated or critical. This reaction usually stems from fear. For example, when I have seen people who are totally blind with eyes that face different directions walking down the street with a cane, it hits a little too close to home for me, and I feel a little twinge of discomfort. My sister and I have even admitted to each other that we get overly self-conscious watching the other in certain situations, aware of how we must look.
Many people experience this phenomenon when they find themselves being triggered by others’ all-too-similar personality traits. For example, if there is someone who talks your ear off every time you run into them, and you have the tendency to do the same thing, even if to a lesser degree, chances are high that this person will really annoy you because you see a little bit of yoruself– the part you don’t always approve of– in that person.
So what to do with this unscientific info? For starters, I think just being aware of WHY we are uncomfortable around certain people, and what fears or issues might be beneath the surface can awaken us to what’s really going on.
One final thought… I think I’ve made a few friends paranoid after citing some funny/irritating examples in my blog about people who grab hold of me without asking, strangers who “help” in unhelpful ways, etc. I’ve had multiple friends ask how, when and if they should help me when we’re out in public. I’m working on a “how to assist a person with RP” post to give some specific suggestions. I plan to consult a few other VIPs in my RP Facebook group, my sis, and a couple articles so that I can return with an educated response. Stay tuned!
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