A friend of mine sent me a draft of the following, which I thought was so good I asked her if I could publish it here, and she sent me an edited version:
I had an exchange with a friend today about sensitivity. I get very tired of some people expecting everyone else to tread very lightly on any topic that could possibly cause offense. How am I supposed to know all of your past trauma? I certainly don’t expect others to know and circumvent mine. I don’t want people thinking they have to walk on eggshells around me. It reduces the authenticity of interaction, and I appreciate authenticity. Careful conversation between polite strangers is deadly dull.
My beloved grandmother died of Alzheimer’s (yes, Alzheimer’s does kill a person after a while). Does this mean I think Alzheimer’s jokes should be avoided by everyone because of the mere possibility that someone in the vicinity might have had a loved one die of Alzheimer’s? Even in the deepest, most violent throes of my grief, I did not react defensively about Alzheimer’s jokes. I was inconsolable, for one thing, so it’s not like my grief ever left my consciousness long enough to allow me to be painfully reminded, and, how are people to know, if they don’t already know? I refused to be that whiny attention whore who says, “Hey! My grandmother just died of Alzheimer’s! This disease is no laughing matter!”
I sometimes feel alienated and misunderstood when people assume that, like them, I am religious. I don’t like it, but what am I going to do? Assault them for assuming that I am like everyone else they know?
I also get peeved when people ask me how many children I have, and then criticize my decision to be child-free-by-choice, asserting that my life is empty and meaningless, and that I have missed the point of everything. However, most women have had children by my age. Either I am in the mood to deliver my standard lecture, or I am not. It really doesn’t matter either way. There are many other things that bother, offend, bore and upset me. Perhaps I guess I should keep cards with me to hand out at work and at bars so everyone knows what not to bring up around me, because I have no skin.
Here’s what I’ve decided after all these years:
If I give other people the power to unhinge my self-esteem and inner well-being with their remarks, that is my problem.
I recognize that there are traumatic circumstances which cause heightened sensitivity to remarks made by others, and there are certainly some traumatic events that are beyond the scope of this post. Before you think I am talking about those things, I am not. Within the range to which this post logically applies, however, I want to come out on strongly on the side of self-empowerment. I think part of the healing process is doing the work to empower yourself, to stand with yourself, and not grant others the authority to make you feel bad. If you are truly a champion for anything, you must be a champion for yourself. Don’t put the way you feel about your choices or your history in someone else’s hands.
Most people cannot spring out of bed and create a permanent change in their perceptions by proclaiming, “From this day forward I shall be 100% impervious to everything everyone else says to me EVER.” Personally, I often enjoy being irritated, because it gives me fodder for the complaining I do for the amusement of those who appreciate me. I think self-empowerment, for some people, is a daily struggle. So be it. I don’t think it makes life more enjoyable or less stressful for anyone when we all have to be so intensely careful around each other. My guess is, we really don’t have get so hung up on what other people are talking about, unless we want to, and that, my friends, may be the crux of the issue.
Part of the impetus for my friend’s writing was a post from The Rotund that I had Tweeted, about how to be a sensitive dieter at work. I think we’re looking at it from different sides; I recently got a question from a nutrition-conscious office worker who wanted to know how not to be “that person on a diet,” and The Rotund’s advice was a good answer to that.
But I’ve been trying to tease apart the issue of offense and when it is taken, and when it is not, for some time now. I’ll put my thoughts, which are much more inchoate than the above, up later in the week. In the meantime, what do you think of my friend’s approach?
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