I know it might sound absurd to suggest too much pride could be an issue, but it can be when the level of respect and cooperation received at work does not translate into personal life. At work, my educational level and position result in some staff treating me with more respect by default, because the responsibilities of my position place me as a source of feedback, support and guidance for others. I am accustomed to a general sense of cooperation and compliance at work with what I have to say, meaning my values, opinions, education, and capabilities are routinely heard and acknowledged.
With the constant affirmations at work, I often have to remind myself outside of the workplace that individuals at home and in the community have a different kind of relationship with me. When I go shopping, for instance, other shoppers will often make light hearted comments about my disabilities, because my disabilities are physical and obvious.
Here are some examples:
“Wow, are you going to stay that little? You didn’t eat right.”
“You’re a short one. Aren’t cha?!’
“Here, let me get that for you.” (No, I didn’t ask first.)
– Insert clerk awkwardly handing me my shopping bag at check out. –
“Do you need someone to carry that for you?”
“Do you need a basket?”
Of course, I believe I am capable of recognizing when I need a basket and can obtain one for myself, so you can understand the feelings of insult when shopping becomes a defensive activity as opposed to a pleasurable outing. However, the individuals making these comments do not know me personally. In fact, most individuals I encounter in the community have never seen me before and are making a momentary decision to offer help or process the situation based on the visual evidence that I do not have all the nuts and bolts compared to a majority of others. Furthermore, my disability is visually unique, even compared to many other disabilities, so when people are seeing me for the first time, they are often seeing the kind of disability I have for the first time as well.
Family encounters are different, because family members know me almost completely, so it can be even more insulting to hear light hearted joking or comments from siblings, parents, or relatives. Siblings might make jokes and parents or relatives might make assumptions that could potentially cause me to feel left out of an activity if I allow the comment to insult me. When I allow the comments to insult me, I separate myself from the activity and I separate myself from the individuals who made the comments. I draw attention to myself and further exacerbate the once minor comment into an elephant. At the point when comments become elephants, people are embarrassed. I am embarrassed. They are embarrassed. A formerly enjoyable moment feels impossibly miserable.
I am one of those people who believes in self-fulfilling prophecies. I believe that life will be as miserable or as wonderful as I decide it will be and I refuse to allow my life to be miserable. I do not want that for myself, so I spend a lot of my time exploring opportunities for positive outcomes or reflecting and learning from mistakes. I cannot change my disabilities. Living a wonderful life means becoming comfortable in my own skin, as I am, as I will be until the day I die. I need to play the game with the cards I was dealt. The phrase “mind over matter” exists for a reason, because it is tried and true.
Individuals in the community are not insulting me on purpose. They are processing what they see and responding. I cannot allow myself to be insulted by the learning experiences of others. I need to be able to respond respectfully, often sacrificing my pride. When I respond respectfully, I become approachable. People are more willing to ask questions, engage in dialog and learn from me when I am approachable. I want people to approach me so that they can get to know me better. People who know me better have more knowledge about my capabilities and are less likely to make comments that feel insulting.
Here are some examples of common responses:
“Haha, yeah, I know! Thanks, but I am Ok.”
“Sure. Thank you so much.”
“You’re right, I am ____! Haha. I have a lot of years of practice though.”
“Hey, thanks. You know, I am actually OK to get this on my own, but if I do need help, I will definitely come find you.”
People are going to make assumptions and your best response is to provide opportunities for others to feel comfortable talking to you and asking questions. If I think I am going to get dagger eyes or a scowl, I am going to steer clear. The problem with using anger to protect yourself from insult is the gap in knowledge left for individuals to fill with their own assumptions, which may or may not be accurate. Do not give other people the opportunity to answer their own questions about you. Show them, answer them, and engage them with patience and compassion.
Here are some assumptions you can make that will help you:
- People are curious about you and want to know about you.
- People do not know you like you know yourself.
- Winning the minor battles does not mean victory for you and should not be your priority.
- Pride is not more important than compassion.
- Creating an elephant better be worth the pride you sacrifice. Elephants only matter if the issue will matter many years from now.
- The people who know you well might still need teaching, and that is OK.
- You are allowed bad days, but you should always reflect on them and learn from them.
- You are interesting and you matter.
- No one has any more of a voice or any less of a voice than you.
- You decide whether your life will be miserable or wonderful.