6.07.2016

Stupid Sh*t People Say

One day, when I was in high school, I was riding the city bus when a friend I hadn’t seen since grade school got on. We were both 15 and to my surprise, she was eight months pregnant. When I saw her I gasped, “Michelle! How did this happen?” She rolled her eyes and muttered something about the ignorance of virgins and made her way to the back of the bus. 

Even at 15 I had enough going on to regret the words I’d said as soon as they’d left my big stupid mouth. Years later, I still cringe when I think about it. We all say bone-headed things and I've found my own foot in my mouth many times since then. I try to remember this when someone barfs out something mind boggling to me and I tell myself they agonize over their most idiotic declarations as much as I distress over mine.

As someone with an often misunderstood illness, I hear stupid shit with astounding regularity. I’ve learned not to take most of it personally, but sometimes these off the cuff, seemingly innocuous comments can be reflections of questionable beliefs that are deeply imbedded in our society. 

As luck would have it, I've been on the receiving end of some of these questionable comments over the last couple of days. In response, I've been using my well trained side-eye a little more than usual and so rather than risk pulling a muscle in my face, I've decided to call a few things out here. 

My first raised eyebrow was directed towards some classic Dime-Store Philosophy, when a casual acquaintance lamented to me that ‘everything happens for a reason.’

I didn’t bother mentioning that I don’t believe my disease was sent to me for the greater good of teaching me some mystical lesson. I simply glanced at my cane and shrugged, saying I don’t really subscribe to that way of thinking. My philosopher friend then doubled down and said if not for some reason, then karma. Oh? 


Please tell me more about the ancient spiritual principles of Buddhism (you WASPy hipster.)

Since I am a lady and sarcasm is unbecoming, what I actually said was an exceedingly polite and sincere “Karma? Interesting. I wonder what the fuck I did?” My politeness notwithstanding, things wrapped up pretty quickly after that. I get it that lots of people think this way. I may have even believed some of these easy ideologies myself before gaining a little life experience. To each his own. But here’s a bit of free sensitivity training: Don’t say this shit out loud. I mean, know the room. There is tragedy in this world. Assigning a reason to someone else’s suffering is just, ew.


Seriously. Just don't.


My adventures with verbal faux pas continued into the next day when The Banker and I headed to the baseball game. The good people at The Roger’s Centre have a service where those requiring assistance can be met at the gate with a wheelchair and brought to their seats. I decided to take advantage of this in the interest of saving myself from a long walk, stairs, and crowds that can be hostile to my slow gait, and blind to my inability to defend myself against the shoving and jostling that happens in a moving throng of people. These employees are well trained and do a great job. It’s a lovely service and without it I might otherwise have stayed home. 

When we arrived at our section, we were met by another employee whose job it was to direct people to their seats. This attendant did not seem to have received quite the same kind of training as the disability services team. When she saw me rolling up in a wheelchair, she called out loudly:

“Well, aren’t you lucky!” 

Her high pitched, sing-song voice was something usually reserved for speaking to people under the age of seven but it's a phenomenon that sometimes happens to adults when being spoken to while seated. Strikes one and two and the game hadn’t even started.

The words were ringing in my ears and this wasn’t even the first time I’d heard something like this. Here’s why I’m throwing shade at it. What she said was so obviously wrong, but it’s not what you’re thinking. Okay. It totally is what you’re thinking. In our lazy as hell society, why would I want to walk when someone else can do it for me? I mean, who wouldn't want that, right? (I heard it. Turns out I'm not much of a lady.)

It’s also this. When someone says ‘Aren’t you lucky?’, it implies that I’m the recipient of some over and above special treatment. Like I’ve won a damn prize. While everyone else at the game deserves to be there, I’m only lucky enough to be there because of the benevolence and generosity of someone else. Yes, it is a great service and I’m happy it exists but it should not be considered a charity and to tell me I ought to feel lucky to have what amounts to the same access as everyone else is diminishing and insulting and not at all what I’m sure the stadium intended. It’s a service that is provided because it's the right thing to do. It's the ethical way to run a business. I don’t feel lucky that I’m invited to participate in something like a baseball game. I feel like a valued and equal member of society.

I know there are many places in the world where people with disabilities are not treated with the same regard I was afforded at the Jays’ game. Hell, there are many places in Toronto where that is the case. I appreciate that I'm fortunate to live in a country where progress is being made in terms of how we treat our most vulnerable but it’s comments like ‘aren’t you lucky’ that are indicative of an endemic, misguided attitude towards disability. One that says, You don’t belong here quite as much as the rest of us. And furthermore, We don’t have to include you, but if we do you’d better recognize how magnanimous and charitable we are. I don’t want to sound like some angry cane wagger but this attitude needs to change. Equal access isn't a benevolent kindness. Under the Ontario Human Rights Code, it's the law, bitches.

Okay, true confessions time. What’s the stupidest thing someone has said to you? You can only answer if you're willing to cough up something boneheaded you’ve said. Guys, our heads are made of bone. It’s bound to happen so get it off your chest already.

In the mean time, I’m gonna pour myself a glass of wine and think about the time I complained to a colleague about the incompetence of the guest lecturer we were forced to endure. A guest lecturer who turned out to be my colleague’s mother. Natch.

28 comments :

  1. We've all been there, on one side or the other. I wonder how much of what we say or suggest would be altered or eliminated if only a moment or two preceded the comment.

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    1. Agreed. I think we tend to blurt these things out a little more when we're uncomfortable or caught off guard; a state that can produce all kinds of questionable things.

      On another note, I'm dying to share the story of the apple you offered out of kindness to the woman who looked like she could use some help.

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    2. Go right ahead. It's a good one.

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  2. "My friend cured and even reversed her MS by eating such and such diet/practicing yoga every moment she was awake/meditating on a mountaintop in Thailand/doing some invasive surgery. Have you tried that?" My response, "I appreciate your suggestion but may I suggest that you might have no clue what you're talking about given your utter lack of experience with MS?" I used to regularly exclaim, "OMG, you're HUGE!" to my pregnant friends when I hadn't seen them in a while, so maybe receiving these comments about MS is my karma��

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    1. My heart started to race while I read this. I like to call these people Potato People. I wrote a whole essay about it here.http://www.trippingonair.com/2015/08/people-who-mean-well-and-their-miracle.html
      As for the pregnancy faux pas, I think we should add it to the school curriculum never to comment on a woman's maternity status, because I think we've ALL done this or had it done to us and nobody wins.

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  3. Once I was told that I must be better (from treatment-resistant depression) because I was wearing a pretty top. Many years ago, I tapped the tummy of a coworker I thought was pregnant and congratulated her. Turns out she was not pregnant.

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    1. Oh dear. I cringed and laughed at both these stories. Obvi you were wearing your shirt that says "My parents went to Cabo and all I got was this t-shirt that cures my treatment resistant depression". You know, the one with the smiley face on the back.

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  4. Here's one of mine:

    Other people with chronic illnesses report that they are frequently accosted by people who press weird cures on them. This doesn’t seem to happen to me very often (maybe I scare them away), but it did the other day.

    A kind of hippie-ish guy fell in with me as I was crossing the street. He was friendly. He told me about how he had hurt his knee, and they said he would never walk again, but he healed himself naturally in six months! “That’s great,” I said.

    Then he wondered if I was paralyzed. “I have MS,” I said. So he wondered if I was getting bee stings. “No,” I said. He thought I ought to know about a new supplement, something with silicon or silica (he didn’t seem quite sure) that was invented by the guy who invented the electron microscope, in France. He was pretty sure that there’s a hospital in Mexico that administers it. His friend did it, but he had heart disease, not MS. On this strange note we parted.

    As far as I could tell, he was genuinely trying to be helpful, which counts for something.

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    1. Hi Katja,
      Thanks for sharing. I hope you will read my post 'People Who Mean Well and their miracle cures". There are so many of these stories and it's amazing how this 'well meaning' guy was so keen to give you advice that he clearly had no understanding of.

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  5. I was on a cruise ship vacation. Early one morning a man says to me "Isn't it a little early for drinking." I was surprised and remained silent, I hadn't had a drink. He was an ass.

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    1. Okay, that guy totally does not deserve the benefit of the doubt, clearly he was an ass. And even if you had been indulging, isn't day drinking on a boat the whole point of going on a cruise?

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  6. The icky thing someone said to me was "Oh...MS? The new designer disease." and the worst thing i said to anyone was on an elevator at work- I turned to the blooming woman next to me and asked when her baby was due. She flinched and said she wasn't pregnant. I don't believe I have ever seen that shade of red before, and never did 14 floors seem so very, very long.

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    1. DESIGNER DISEASE? I hope you were wearing Burberry. I mean, I just can't.

      You're in good company with the baby thing.

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  7. What a great commentary about what it's like to deal with awkward moments from probably well meaning people. I often find these comments come from people who are uncomfortable knowing what to say. Reality is, we should teach these people it's sometimes better to say nothing at all!

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    1. I totally agree. When in doubt, say nothing.

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  8. Ooh, Ohh, I've got one...

    A co-worker, who I also consider a friend, recently got into a fairly serious car accident. We were in his office talking about how he was struggling to get around because of the discomfort he was in when he blurted out "I am walking around looking like you." I felt a warmth come over my face and felt shocked, embarrassed, and angry all at once. He is a good guy and I know he didn't intend to hurt me - I reminded myself that he felt comfortable to make the comment because I am OK with who I am, and that is a good thing.

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    1. My heart is in my throat over this one.

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  10. I'm pretty sure we get paid back for these obtuse statements when our children begin to make embarrassing comments to people in our presence. My son said to his aunt one day, "Hey, you have a moustache, you man, you!" what could I say; "no, she doesn't"? (She clearly did). And if I tell him, "Son, it isn't polite to comment on a lady's facial hair" I am stepping right into the verbal quicksand with him. It's best to take the humiliation for the well-deserved karma that it is.

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    1. Thanks for sharing, Mom. And thanks for not sharing a story wherein I was the offender. That said, I thought for sure you'd tell the story of the inspirational calendar you received or at the very least, the one about Jimmy Two Fingers.

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  11. It wasn't said to my face, but while in grad school right after my diagnosis, one of my teachers sent me an email with a note saying "hoping this helps" and a link to an article. The article essentially said that MS is caused by being a quiet, inward-turning person (being an introvert!) and keeping your emotions bottled up. This happens to define me to a T, so it sent me in a bit of a spiral. As with most of the ignorant comments and miracle-cure suggestions, I know it came from a place of caring and/or good intentions. It's gotten easier to brush these comments off over the years, but just the memory of this one still crushes me a little bit.

    My worst boneheaded comment moment was at a relative's graduation in a pretty rural area, at which the small HS band performed. I was probably a bit of a band-geek-snob at that point (and I maybe still am), and as I was leaving, I exclaimed to my family, "That was the worst band I've ever heard!" The band director was right behind me, natch. Still makes me cringe to remember that.

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    1. BARF.

      Sometimes I think these kinds of comments are about the egos of the ones delivering them. Like, the people that have to know the answer to absolutely everything. I once had a massage therapist, (who was also a reiki practitioner) tell me that I'd invited this disease into my life. These comments that blame the victim are dangerous. They absolve us of compassion or of having to do anything like make things more accessible, or not be jerks.

      And as a big mouthed extrovert with zero hidden emotions, I think the science behind your teacher's assertion is pretty darn sketchy.

      At least what you said about the band was probably true.

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  12. So when I was in grade school there were, naturally, the badass boys 1-2 years ahead of me and my pals. They did stupid shit all the time (and when my time came to fill their shoes I did the same). One day at lunch out on the grass one of them happened to have or was given a good size chunk of some foul smelling cheese. He then began to break off small bits and cram them into the nostrils of the younger kids, myself included.
    Years later I see him in HS. He is now in a wheelchair. Some kind of accident. I said nothing to him for the time we shared the campus. Flash forward again, maybe 5 years after I graduated, and I see him at the party of someone who turned out to be a mutual friend. After a few drinks and realizing that he and I are suddenly in close proximity we begin chatting. 10 minutes in I remind him that we knew each other from grade school. The ‘remember him’ and 'remember her’ segment passed and suddenly I was talking the stinky cheese affair. Even as I was retelling the tale I could tell he was getting uncomfortable but I could not fucking keep my tongue in check. He rolled away and I was left alone feeling dumber than a bag o’ hammers.
    To this day when I feel the need to slap myself around some that is one of the total recall incidents I bring fast forward.

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    1. Hugs for EVERYONE involved in this story. (And I really hope the childhood incident didn't ruin stinky cheese for your forever)

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  13. Ok so craziest thing said to me... My brother is really smart and someone was trying to soothe an imagined inferiority complex (that I don't actually have.) This person said "I know you think your brother is a lot smarter than you, but the truth is he is here... *moves hand to a certain height in the air* and you are here *moves other hand to barely lower place in the air*. This actually happened. Maybe it is karma for the time I kept forgetting to avoid "your mom" jokes around a new friend whose mother had passed when she was young?

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    1. Just wow. I can't imagine what I would've said in this scenario.

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  14. My worst moment was I was on the bus in a powerchair & a drunk got annoyed that I wouldnt talk to him. He then started commenting on how my legs weren't very thin. He then called me a fraudulent D-head on front of all the passengers. I had to sit there for 30 min with him glaring at me.
    Another place I try to walk and when I wasnt using my powerchair I was told I was a fraud on two seperate occasions by 2 elderly people.
    I made friends with a group of elderly people and tried to do a small amount of walking. They then started talking behind my back saying I was a fraud. One said to my face....that I am capable of walking a long distance & to not worry that anyone will see me ie to try to not be spotted.
    On another occasion I got on the bus in my powerchair & another woman in a wheelchair wanted my space so she started telling everyone I can walk & am fake on the bus, the passengers & bus driver.

    People dont understand I can only walk a short distance & need to pace myself very carefully. I move fast...because I have rested properly & been very disciplined.

    I once stood up out of my wheelchair & did a slow bit of dancing right next to my chair. Someone came up to me and started abusing me saying I was a fraud.

    I want to set off from my doorway with a rollator & go 100 metres slowly but it will just increase the gossip & judgement. They want me to try walking but they make it horrible

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