The mechanics of repulsion

The mechanics of repulsionHere we are again. Another summer is beginning, and the weather is starting to change. Instead of cold and wet days and nights, we will soon have hot evenings and even hotter days.

Fortunately, the winter in my area this past year was mild, so I didn’t have to deal with the freezing cold and its effect on my joints. Unfortunately, I have been told this means the summer months are going to be unbearably hot and humid, which is a death sentence for me.

One of the ways I can tell that the summer months have really kicked in is by examining the contents of my pockets at the end of every day. If I pull out some various change along with a receipt for fast food, then it’s still springtime. If, instead, at the end of the day I pull out a wad of shredded napkins or a damp folded paper towel, then that means we have officially made it to summer. Thanks to all the medication I have taken over the years, it seems my body has decided to produce an overabundance of sweat.

So much so that it can get downright embarrassing at times.

Ah, summer. Those halcyon days when, sitting in an un-airconditioned church, soaked to the bone, watching a wedding service that you didn’t want to come to in the first place, becomes a common occurrence. It begins with people staring and discretely pointing at you, and ends with nearby guests getting up and moving as far away as possible.

It begins with people staring and discretely pointing at you, and ends with nearby guests getting up and moving as far away as possible.

I can’t blame those who move away, though, since I really do look like I just got bitten by an African monkey with Ebola.

So, I walk around, shirt soaked clean through. If I only limped, it would be tragic, but not near as bad as the perspiration.

You see, there is a fundamental difference between limping in public and sweating profusely in public. From what I can determine, the public in general tend to think that someone who has a limp is suffering from a disease that they probably cannot catch. On the other hand, someone who is sweating all over the place and limping makes people think that whatever the “limp-ee” is suffering from is extremely contagious — communicable just by staring too long as well, it seems. Sickness by electricity, I believe, is the medical term.

The way that “healthy” people (is anyone really truly healthy?) perceive those of us who are ill is a very peculiar thing.

Being ill has always been a stigma in most circles, even if people do not want to admit it. Even from ancient times, the ill have been shunned.

Being ill has always been a stigma in most circles, even if people do not want to admit it. Even from ancient times, the ill have been shunned.

In ancient Rome and Greece, evidence suggests that infants born with mental or physical disabilities were killed. In medieval times, babies born with anything wrong at all were generally thought to be possessed by demons. In the seventeenth century, the disabled were rounded up and housed in special disability houses, thus segregated from the rest of “clean” society. Even during World War II, the Nazis made people with disabilities the subject of horrific experiments in concentration camps.

We have a very long history of treating those who are ill differently. It is not a habit we are likely to wake up one morning and suddenly divest ourselves of. It has been ingrained into the human psyche for millennia, and you can still find examples of it today.

If you don’t believe me, ask yourself this question and make sure you answer honestly:  the last time you saw someone with Down Syndrome asking for money at the grocery store, did you try to avoid them? Whether you admit it or not, the answer is probably yes. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve done it.

Why do we do this? Why do we avoid the sick and try to hide them away from the rest of polite society?

I believe it is because we are bombarded each and every day by the media’s standard of beauty and success, which is something that most of us will never come close to attaining in our lifetime.

Every time you open a magazine or turn on the TV, there is a picture of a six-foot-tall woman with a size 2 waist and a large bust who can eat a triple cheeseburger and not gain a pound. She inevitably goes hand in hand with the sexy male figure who looks stunning in a suit and knows how to drive like a Nascar driver when he takes his Mercedes out for a spin on the Pacific Coast Highway. These two archetypes are the standards of perfection that we are supposed to aspire to.

Well, I can tell you without one second of hesitation that I will probably never look great in a suit. I mean, come on, I have enough trouble finding a shoe that will fit my left foot which is shaped like a boomerang! As for the female, well, let’s just say I’ve known very few women who have been born with a tiny waist and a large bust line.

Every time we see someone limping down the street, asking for charitable donations at the grocery store, or lying in a hospital bed waiting for chemo, our minds automatically fill us with a feeling of revulsion and repulse us, no matter how prepared for the shock we are.

Because these images of perfection have been with us since birth, we subconsciously try to match ourselves to them as much as possible. Since most of us are not imbeciles, we know that attaining these archetypical standards is impossible. Consciously, we poke fun and admit that the imaginary standards that Hollywood has created are bogus, but, and this is a big “but,” (no pun intended) that does not mean we like to be reminded just how imperfect we are.

Being imperfect is what the sick, the disabled, and the mentally ill bring to mind, and it’s a subject that even kings avoid like the plague.

Every time we see someone limping down the street, asking for charitable donations at the grocery store, or lying in a hospital bed waiting for chemo, our minds automatically fill us with a feeling of revulsion and repulse us, no matter how prepared for the shock we are. Sure, we know that this is wrong, but it’s simply the human autonomic response to the different, the strange, and the weak.

Beyond even Hollywood stereotypes, this basic need to hide and shun the imperfect stems from the fact that in the early days of our evolution, anything sick or disfigured would probably not survive. Why waste time, effort, and emotion caring for something that won’t survive anyway?

Yes, some of this is hard to read, and I know many of you are saying “not me!” to yourselves right now, and I truly hope you are right.

Take a moment, though, and be ultimately honest with yourself about your feelings towards the ill. I am disabled myself and yet I am still susceptible to this flaw from time to time. We are fighting aeons of evolutionary imperative, so slipping up is easy.

Now that we know, though, it makes it much easier to treat the sick and the handicapped the same as we would anyone else. Remember, some of us have contributed more to society than any 10 lazy, healthy people have.

Add Your Comment

Click here to log-in now and post a comment.

Register 1 Register 2 Register 3