With title courtesy of Stephen Colbert’s “Better Know a District”, liberties taken.
Welcome to the second in an occasional series on Mama Sick!
On March 21st I wrote a post called You Know You Want to Look!, in which I came right out and said that I know I get stared at, but that I was okay with it, and that I understood it because I too am guilty of staring.
I got a lot of great comments on here and through Twitter, but Andrea of Fly Little Words, Fly had some really good thoughts and the educational background to offer me an answer as to why we look.
Andy is a single, sick mom who lives in Toronto.
And I will let her tell you the rest:
I started blogging very recently, because I was looking for an outlet for all the thoughts that were running through my head when I was diagnosed after two years of cyclical episodes of extreme illness. It has been a wonderful way of keeping in contact with my “village” (it takes a village to raise a child, and also to help his sick mom stay sane and relatively healthy) both near and far. I started using a cane after an incident of overstimulation and anxiety at my dentist left me almost unable to get back to my car. I remembered reading that using one had helped somebody with my condition manage her social anxiety, and maintain energy levels.
When Emily wrote about how we as disabled people often have to deal with being stared at, I told her that, Anthropologically speaking, it makes perfect sense. From there come these thoughts. I will share my background with you, some ideas about how our brains have evolved, and why I think it’s relevant to how people see those who use mobility devices.
First, a note about where I’m coming from. My formal studies are in Film, Sociology and Integrative Learning. I like learning about learning, and about people – what drives us, how we communicate, the use of symbols, and especially, how these are developed in us.
So when I read Emily’s post, I immediately went into academic mode. Why do we stare at people in wheelchairs? And then it clicked. I know why we do that… we’re biologically programmed to do it. We are programmed to hone in on two things: similarities and differences. Following that, we categorize them in our brain’s filing system, finding a neat tidy spot in which to put what we’ve noticed. But the world is not neat and tidy, no matter how much our brains try to make it so.
There’s a great book that the brain fog won’t allow me to finish called Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear, written by Dan Gardner. It explains that our brains have not evolved as quickly as our culture, that we do not have the ability to fully categorize things we see and hear as being not applicable to our real, modern circumstances. But the sense of fear stays, even when our conscious mind knows whatever we are seeing and hearing is not an immediate danger.
This points to how the evolution of our brains informs our everyday actions and attitudes. Things we don’t even notice. I believe this is related to why we instinctively look at people who are different from us. Our brains have not evolved enough to distinguish that difference does not necessarily mean danger. But it’s not even necessarily about danger, just about awareness. Early humans needed to be very aware of their surroundings.
While our conscious thoughts may be “I’m here in the mall to buy a sweater. I wish my child would keep up with me. I wonder if they have a blue one. What am I going to make for dinner tonight?”, our subconscious mind is taking in our surroundings, ensuring we don’t walk into walls, and such things. Until there is a trigger that takes us from our thoughts and attracts our attention – like a person using a walker.
We are automatically triggered by sensations that are out of the ordinary, such as when everyone turns to look at the waiter who dropped the dishes. We also look at people with blue hair or facial piercings. When something is out of the ordinary, we are biologically prone to seeking out a reason for it, and to ascertain whether or not it is a danger to us, or if it could be of benefit to us. That’s also why we look at beautiful people. Another biological imperative – reproduction, the ensured survival of our species – more specifically, the survival of the strongest genes.
Those of us who use mobility aids are very much in the minority, thank goodness, and therefore stand out. If you think about it, in our nomadic days, we would have been a huge danger to the safety of our tribes. I honestly believe that people look because it attracts their attention. Where their thoughts go after that… well that’s a whole other story!
Huh. Who knew sick people could be smart? Actually, Andrea was even smarter, but I had to edit her!
I thank this wonderful, brilliant woman for guest blogging on my site. I have enjoyed getting inside her head a bit, and I hope you have too.
Would you like to be a Guest Blogger on Mama Sick? I am looking for anyone who is sick or well, who would like to express their ideas and opinions, expand upon mine, or write something completely different. You don’t even have to have a blog, you can just be a person!
Your reward is hopefully more traffic to your blog on a blog I am proud to say ranks a 4 on Google (still don’t know what that means?!) and has an Alexa ranking of 1.2 (last week, 1.6!) million and still growing (I know that’s pretty good!)! And you people who are more successful then I, you can post too, and get a whole new audience!
You can contact me by clicking the CONTACT button above, and take it from there.