When I was growing up, my mother passed down many unsolicited-but-now-wholeheartedly-appreciated “Pearls of Wisdom”. One of these was, “never assume. Look at how it is spelled; to ‘assume’ makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and out of ‘me’.”
Like many such parental Pearls, this one stuck with me.
Given the cognitive viscosity of the average (dense) person, I’m pretty amazed that many of these same people pass lightning-quick judgments on perfect strangers at breakneck speed.
So here’s my PSA of the day, discussing several common misconceptions and offering potential counterexamples.
Handicap license plates: They don’t require that the driver be wheelchair-bound. They don’t require that the person have gray hair or be old or crippled, or even walk with a cane. In fact, that driver with that handicap plate might actually appear young and able-bodied. That person might have debilitating rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia, the medication for which just might be happening to finally work that day. They may have just gone through an operation such as a hysterectomy or open-heart surgery and be trying to abide by activity restriction.
In our case, I have no plate-eligible handicap, but my husband does. He’s legally blind, which means that he can see, for the most part, and he does not require a white cane, but may not see a camouflaged curb, sidewalk crack, or uneven/suddenly-changing surface.
Obesity: I have personally counted about 15 reasons for extra weight, only two of which have anything to do with the traditional calorie-related rhetoric. There may be other health issues well beyond the person’s control, and much to their doctors’ mystery. These include imbalanced intestinal bacteria, low thyroid function, various medication side effects, excess severe stress, excess chronic stress, uterine or ovarian fibroids or cysts, other hormonal imbalances, damage to parts of the brain by trauma (such as a severe car accident or domestic abuse or falling or job-related injury), toxicity, genetic factors, and many more.
Obesity does not necessarily mean that the person is a face-stuffing couch potato; some of these people could eat nothing and spend all day on a treadmill and still never shed a pound. Don’t criticize or belittle them until you know which of the (at least) 15 things on that list that they have, and you’re damn sure it’s one (or both) of the two that actually involve calorie intake.
The person sneezing while smoking: The section of the population that gets all the press are those who are allergic to tobacco smoke and begin to sneeze and become congested when exposed to it. The research studies all seem to gang up on cigarette smoke being related to asthma, allergy exacerbation, mucus production, and general immune system irritation.
But there’s another side: tobacco smoke also suppresses some immune system components. Some people with allergies or histamine excess actually have an over-active immune system, for which tobacco is the perfect antidote.
So, if you see someone having a cig while sneezing, they may actually be partaking in an effort to dampen–and often improve or even relieve–their symptoms. You might be tempted to think “well of course he’s sneezing; he’s doing that to himself”. Instead, ask yourself, “is he doing that to relieve himself?”
Minority races and political affiliation: Recently, I’ve been bombarded by many Republicans that assume that just because someone is of a skin color other than white, that that person automatically votes Democrat.
This is not necessarily true. I live in a city in which as a predominantly-Caucasian person, I’m surrounded by people of Latino origin who actually make up the majority, and they’re actually divided; some swing left, some swing right, and others refuse to give in to either side, remaining either moderate/independent, or a member of a third/minor party.
Many Spanish-speaking people are just as against immigration as the blue-blooded Caucasian. Many own guns, are religious, vote pro-life, and all that. Many work hard and detest welfare programs. Many waited until after marriage to have children. Many achieved success without handouts or programs.
Gluten-free specifications: The person ordering gluten-free is often not doing so by choice. More and more commonly, these people are doing so out of literal life-and-death necessity. They don’t all have Celiac Disease, per se; some have other types of autoimmunity (flared up or made worse by gluten), and still others may just live on a different part of what is becoming known as the gluten-reactivity spectrum (my term, I think, but when I say this, I’m paraphrasing a variety of the current information out there).
These people are not trying to call attention to themselves, make life difficult or complicated for the restaurant waitstaff or kitchen staff, cast themselves into a “special” light with “special needs”. These people are simply trying to prevent their bodies from eating themselves as they tend to do when exposed to this food that seems to be in every-fucking-thing, including places you’d least expect it, such as soy sauce and the imitation crab (not specified as imitation on the menu!) used in sushi rolls. We have to be vigilant. We have to be uber-careful.
This is simply a disagreement between our bodies and the collective production of the wheat-obsessed world around us. No, we can’t have even just “a little bit”. Not even just “one bite”. We have to deal with it every day; you can deal with us for the hour or day that you’re with us.
It’s not a choice, and not a fad. Don’t insult us further by criticizing or belittling us. Pick up a medical journal.
Basically, don’t judge someone until you’ve walked in their shoes. They have the handicap sticker, the gluten-free diet, the extra weight, etc, for a reason. It’s not a personal character flaw, not a voluntary decision, not a scam meant to game the system, not a product of their own making.
Instead of snapping reflexively to a judgmental statement in your mind, replace that uneducated verdict with an open-minded question, either to yourself or to them.
Seek to learn. Seek to understand. Be open.
If you really have a heart, say a little prayer, even for that which you cannot see.