We often like to believe that the world as we know it is at its most chaotic and that things have never been this weird or strange. But in truth, things have pretty much always stayed consistent. In their own way. We generally feel like there’s been a measurable change in society because recent decades have opened a spigot on accepting everyone and everything, combined with a complete and total inability to process and accept criticism, judgement and opinions. It’s a toxic combination as it’s breeding a world where people can claim to be whatever they want (even if they aren’t that particular thing) and shame on you if you tell them different. Have you experienced this? I recently did and what’s worse is, it was with someone I’m actually acquainted with. I can’t imagine the further shit storm I would have faced, had I been a stranger.
One of the things that’s always lit a fire under me is how folks simply EXPECT you to know something about them. And of course, every situation is specific and circumstantial to the moment, but sometimes one needs to acknowledge that there has to be a bit of give to your take. A good example I can provide is from almost twenty years’ ago when I managed a restaurant. We had a gentleman who came in, almost on a daily basis. He was a bit older than I was and was usually accompanied by what appeared to be family. Nothing out of the ordinary, other than the fact that he was in a wheelchair. This was not a temporary thing and he had obviously had something happen to him, earlier in life.
Through coincidence and circumstance, I had never had the opportunity to serve him. Then one day, I did. I took his order, accepted his payment and held out his change, which he accepted. Then I made the apparently offensive mistake of offering to carry his tray to the table… Now, I totally get that everyone is on their own journey and we never know what they’re going through and so on and so forth. And that’s quite true. You never know what’s bubbling underneath the surface. But the way this gentleman reacted to me was disproportionate to the fact that I was simply making an offer to help. He took instant offence and became irritated, asking me how I dared to assume he was incapable of carrying his own tray.
Being as I had worked at that particular job for quite some time and had plenty of practice at staying calm in the face of customer anger, I simply took a step back, held my hands out placatingly and apologized, as the man grabbed his tray, laid it across the arms of his wheelchair and pushed off. He executed each movement with the kind of over-exaggerated jerkiness that made it clear he was upset. He also never broke eye contact, glaring at me the whole time. Holy shit. What just happened? I asked the two other floor managers I was working with if they knew the story, but neither of them did.
Since I’m a firm believer in allowing matters to cool before addressing them, I left the man alone but I chose to address one of the family members he had with him. I explained what had happened and I asked her if she knew why he had taken such offence. She explained that it was mostly a pride thing, as he always tried to be as independent as possible despite being in a wheelchair. I wanted to tell her that I understood but that he may want to reconsider his approach, since the person he’s addressing may not know that. instead, I just said that I understood and asked her to apologize on my behalf as he seemed to be pretty pissed at me. She nodded understandingly and said that she would.
This begs the question? Was I the asshole? And no, I don’t mean in general, before any of my friends or family jump on THAT particular bandwagon. But was it fair of this person to use their anger on me like that for something I didn’t know about? One would think that it would make sense to offer aid to someone who is in a wheelchair and although it could be understood that such a person would want to retain independence and do things for themselves, would it not be the better approach to simply explain that, rather than get angry?
The rights and acknowledgment of a large number of different groups has become a hot topic around the world. One good example is gender identity, which has become something of the norm in recent years. We always see stories on the news about people who have gotten into physical altercations and public arguments because someone might have said “sir” or “ma’am.” Every person has the right to their identity as they see fit, but is it fair to unleash the hounds on every person who may not know? You can see and read about these situations almost every day as they relate to politics, gender identity, handicap and the less visible diseases and sexual orientation.
And although I know that this can be a bit of a touchy subject, it begs an important question as to whether it’s more important to receive the correct acknowledgement or be treated in a specific way as opposed to making it clear in the first place. I think that if I address someone by a particular title, I would like to be informed if I’m incorrect. This would be much easier than starting an angered tirade that can easily snowball into something uglier. I’d rather not have that person emotionally explode in my face because they identify as something other than the term I used.
I’m not referring to times when dealing with specific folks who feels it necessary to work AGAINST any particular group. That’s an entirely different bag. I’m referring to the normal, everyday interactions that we have while out in public (not that THAT happens much these days). Harmony and peace would be so much easier if people would simply take a moment and say, “Please address me this way…” or “No, thank you. I can manage this on my own.” As a Diabetic, I’ve often had people try to be accommodating or helpful. Especially when they’re “helpfully” suggesting what I should or shouldn’t eat… But that’s for another post. My point is, I view such instances as a chance for education and clarification. If every person did as much, it could go a long way towards preventing so many negative encounters. Food for thought… ☯