My post yesterday about the weepy face emoticon generated some heat, both in comments here on the blog and over on Facebook. As I read through what others had to say I realized that the idea behind that post – that sympathy, and even empathy, are valid emotions but both of which have a complicated and complex relationship with people who have disabilities. Disability itself, as an abstract concept, is linked in the minds of many without disabilities as something at exists for the expression of sympathy and empathy. And then there is pity which is just condescension dressed up in drag.
Yesterday Joe and I were at the ‘EX’ (Canada’s National Exhibition) with the girls, spending hours and hours at the midway. I was watching the girls get off one ride and enjoying the look of sheer pleasure on their faces when, suddenly, the woman in front of them fell to the ground. I caught the fall out of the corner of my eye. Everyone gasped because the woman fell hard, doing nothing to break the fall. When the people with her were helping her up, lifting her up really, it became clear that she had some kind of mobility disability that made walking more difficult for her.
One of the other patrons rushed over to her, arms out, ready to help. With what I don’t know because she was already up and brushing off the dust. She looked and saw the woman and said, “I’m fine, I don’t need your help.” The woman said, “But I feel so bad …” And that’s as far as she got.
“DON’T YOU DARE FEEL SORRY FOR ME!!!”
The voice boomed out.
The world seemed to stop.
“IT WAS JUST A FALL. PEOPLE FALL ALL THE TIME.”
The person rushing over, stopped, dropped the outreached arms, looked hurt and turned and walked away, dejected that sympathy and help had been offered.
Then it was over, the girls were back with us talking about the ride and we moved on t the next one, chatting as we went.
Now here’s the thing, and I still don’t think I’m going to explain this the way that I think it needs to be explained, people also feel sympathy for people who fall, any one who falls, from an athele to a grandparent. They do. I can and would. But sympathy has a complex relationship to disability. It can feel like pity. It is difficult to trust someone’s sympathy because one never knows if it’s an emotion engendered by one’s self – one’s disability or difference, or by the situation – falling in this instance. It is really difficult to trust and because our trust has been violated so often, we may end up rejecting what’s honestly offered.
I recognize that’s what I may have done yesterday.
Which wasn’t my intent. My intent was to discuss this issue which for me is one that I need to deal with. I was wondering if other’s had a similar distrust of sad faces, weepy faces or sympathy in relationship to their own lives and the situations they encountered. I’m guessing the woman who fell, might have similar feelings about the whole complex mess. But that’s just a guess.