No Thanks Needed

Write your story, attach your picture, what do you think is stigmatized and othered and made different and disliked? Wouldn’t it be boring if we were all exactly the same? It would be predictible? Our culture says “Be yourself.” but then sometimes it says, “No, actually, we don’t like you!” or “No, you are too weird or weird in the wrong way!” Knit a stigma hat, crochet a stigma doily, build a monument, tear up a stigmatizing book and attach the story or photograph, we want to see it!

Since WordPress stopped posting a daily prompt, a group of dedicated individuals (several groups, but I only follow one) has picked up the baton. I follow — and write — the “Rag Tag Daily Prompt.” This morning it’s more than a word. It’s an actual prompt much like those that appeared on WordPress back in the antediluvian era when I wrote my first post. I will try to answer that question about what I think is “stigmatized” in my society. As for “other” being a verb? Please, no.

“Kennedy, you’re weird!” I’ve heard that as long as my peers knew the word weird. My brother was beaten up regularly after school for being different (Poor Kirk. He was stigmatized for being a little chubby, very funny, and bored with school. BTW, Happy Birthday, Kirk. ❤ ). Kids made fun of the way my dad walked (he had MS). My mom felt like a freak because she was a little older than the other moms of similarly aged children in our neighborhood. The — oops — othering is done to ourselves by ourselves and to us by others and to others by us. Peer pressure is powerful in our species. We want to belong. The paradox in American society is that part of belonging is being an outlier (with other similar minded outliers who band together to outlie on the peripheries of sanity, refusing vaccinations).

Facebook and other social media platforms are filled with little bonding memes — some sinister, some benign, some no more evil than “Share if you agree.” One of the most difficult things I had to teach my critical thinking classes was that consensus doesn’t equal truth. A group, working on a problem, was usually satisfied when they all agreed with an answer. It was challenging to get them to question anything they all agreed upon. There are good reasons for this — humans survive better in tribes AND getting a group of people to agree is no easy thing.

The medieval leper is the legendary “other.” The thing is, in reality, he wasn’t “othered” at all. Sir Walter Scott (centuries later) wrote a work of total fiction (Ivanhoe) in which medieval lepers were persecuted as they wandered in droves (there were never droves of lepers in medieval Europe) begging, beaten, accused, etc. In reality, the handful of lepers in medieval Europe were housed, fed, cared for. Comfortable establishments wee built for them by wealthy land owners, princes, kings, dukes, earls (duke, duke, duke of earl) as a way for those otherwise murderous and rapacious feudal fighters to get into Heaven. Every florin donated by a wandering merchant or serf helped that merchant or serf get into Heaven AND getting into Heaven was MAJOR. Helping a leper was an easy way, a lot easier than not lying, cheating, stealing, raping, murdering, etc. etc.

Proving that one era’s “other” is another era’s “divine boondoggle.” No stigma at all. They knew back then that leprosy wasn’t very contagious, they knew this without even understanding contagion. Thank you, lepers, for the easy shot at Heaven!

Back in 1994 when I had a Major Depressive Crisis and had to take disability leave from my teaching job, I learned a lot about stigma. I learned it when, after 3 months on disability leave, I returned to work. Work didn’t want me any more, but they couldn’t fire me for having been ill. They COULD reduce my classes to such a point that I could barely keep body and soul together. The boss made sure I was not given any responsibility — I had formerly been the coordinator of the writing program, no more. I’d designed courses in listening, no more. I’d run the computer lab/writing center — no more. When a temporary boss came in to run a summer program and wanted me to be co-coordinator, no. Not Martha. The day I returned to work? That was something. I walked in the door of the classroom building to go to my first class. My colleagues backed against the wall, truly, literally, and one of them said, “Lazarus has returned.”

Just writing that this morning I feel a shred of the fury I felt that morning. I imagined myself as a super-Shaolin warrior, kicking and disabling all of them as I flew down the hall. Instead, I just held up my head, smiled and said, “Hi! It’s good to be back.” It wasn’t good to be back, and I found other work within the next two years. I ended up a contract university lecturer making four times what any of them did. It was as close as I could get to fancy Shaolin kicks.

Disease, insanity, infirmity of any kind is rightfully stigmatized by a species when the basic objective of all life is survival and procreation. I see it all the time in my jaunts into the natural world. Coots may lay a dozen eggs but end up with one or two chicks and they are “pro-active” in diminishing the number of children (as many birds are…) I have no idea how coots “feel” about that, but it horrifies us, what amounts to a kind of post hoc abortion. I’ve done a little research on this and it seems the jury is still out on why. Some say the parents nurture the most likely survivors and let the weaker ones die. Some say that Coots will lay eggs in a pre-existing nest and the OWNERS of that nest will kill the young that don’t belong to them and they do this by LOOKING at the chicks and keeping those which resemble them and letting the others starve. Well, I’ve looked at hundreds of coots by now and they are not all that different looking from each other. I’d have to know more about coot eye sight to weigh in on this one. BUT I think most of the choices made by animals are based on survival so would the mechanism for coot infanticide drive in that direction?

The other day I was out with Bear, walking slowly because I was still contending with the effects of the booster shot. I stopped to watch the Coots. They are smart little birds in their way. Just then, a large Harris Hawk swooped low over the pond, looking for lunch. I watched the Coots who, unlike the ducks, didn’t take to the air to evade the hawk, or send up a racket like cranes or geese. This morning I learned that the Harris Hawk doesn’t prey on them particularly. They worry about ospreys and eagles. How do they KNOW? The coots swam around like nothing was going on. It’s not like they don’t react to predators, but they seem to know The more I learned about them, the more convinced I was that they have made an art out of survival. And, they are not like the other birds.

I’ve cut my species a huge break by not breeding. 😉

9 thoughts on “No Thanks Needed

  1. Such an interesting read. I got stick at school simply because of my surname. Mallaband became mangyband or blueband (margarine), being different, not fitting in, losing confidence, I also couldn’t see very well and it was only in my third year at school that my eyes were tested. Short sighted. Then of course I got bullied for wearing glasses. It lead me to wearing dark horned rimmed ones to show I wasn’t bothered! Thanks for sharing x

  2. I’ve had my share of “othering” too. Asperger traits alienate a lot of people.

    A really sad result of being “othered?” That we often “other” the rest of the world right back. It seems natural to do this yet it is completely counterproductive.

    Living well is the best revenge.

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