Trying her foot at the xylophone.
A scene from the library last week: A little girl spends a few minutes assessing Lamp then walks up to PSP and says, "I feel so sorry for your sister for missing an arm." I'm not sure PSP knew what to say, but I think she just smiled and shrugged her shoulders like OK... if you want to.
Later that evening Lamp said, "Hey mom! I've got a good idea for what to say when people say they feel bad for me!"
"OK, what's your idea?" A little surprised because I didn't think she heard this exchange at the library.
"I can just say, 'It's OK! You don't have to feel bad for me.'"
"That's a great thing to say."
"Yeah I can just show them my arms and be like 'it's OK, my arms are just different. I'm not sad.'"
"That's right. You don't want people to feel sorry for you."
Besides the fact that my 4 year old is often surprising me with just how much her young mind absorbs, I was struck with the fact that 1) she recognizes what pity is and 2) she does not want that crap. She might not be able to define it, I'm sure she doesn't even know the word, but homegirl does not want people feeling sorry for her.
I know in this example these words were coming from a little girl who doesn't know any better. But I hope you understand that it's not about the girl. It's about my daughter, a girl born with disabilities, who doesn't want people to pity her. And we have definitely had adults share similar sentiments as well, actually using the term "poor thing" in reference to Lamp. Please do not ever refer to someone with disabilities as a "poor thing." Yes Lamp still laments that she can't do certain things, and yes she even asks why she was born this way. Those are legitimate questions and feelings that she feels. But she does not want anyone else feeling sad or bad for her.
I'm not sure I ever really understood pity before having Lamp. Truthfully I still have a hard time defining the difference between pity, empathy, sympathy and compassion--it can be confusing. As this post states, "these things can interconnect, and even at times, seem interchangeable. They all have to do with emotions that are born out of other people's suffering, sorrows and tragedies."
But here's what I understand about pity now and why it's so damaging. Pity looks down on you and comes from a place of judgement. Pity tells you that something is so wrong with you that it is incompatible with happiness. Pity assumes the worst. It seems to me that empathy and perhaps sympathy tend to happen as we listen to others, as we hear why they are sad and respond accordingly, i.e. mourning with those who mourn. Pity isn't listening, pity isn't interacting, pity only judges. And that judgement is usually damning. Of course pity tells you more about the person giving it than the person receiving it. When you 'feel sorry' for someone that revels your fears, your prejudices and your misconceptions. Unfortunately pity can still hurt the person on the receiving end.
I posted a Ted Talk a few weeks ago by a woman named Stella Young. She spoke about the objectification of disabled people and many readers had mixed reactions to her talk. Some of you thought she was looking to take offense at people who simply meant well, while others of you (a few that are actually disabled) agreed with her perspective. From what I understand part of her message was that when we expect too little of people with disabilities, we hold them back as a society, and that the biggest obstacles disabled people have aren't the limitations their bodies place on them, its the limitations society places on them. I think pity plays a huge role in that. Pity isn't looking to elevate, pity holds back.
In short, pity sucks. At least that's my take on it.
I'd love to hear your thoughts... Do you feel like you truly understand what pity is and would you care to broaden my definition? Anyone ever been on the receiving end of that kind of pity? Is there a difference between feeling sorry for yourself and others feeling sorry for you? Any other thoughts?
PS--the Spotlight is back tomorrow so tune in!