At one point or another in our lives we have all fallen victim to this: nosey and often irritating questions asked by well-intentioned people who are just trying to figure out something about us. However, their naive questions can bring out anger in the best of us from time to time.
The questions can take many forms:
- perhaps a well-meaning stranger asked what happened as they point to the giant spaghetti stain on your white shirt
- maybe the stranger who saw your kid’s black eye and is asking for every gory detail of the incident
- or maybe on a more severe level it looks like an adoptive parent being asked if they have any “real” children
I am a big target for these often awkward interactions.
They usually happen at the most inopportune times. For example, like when I have 5 minutes to catch my train or I’m trying to find my seat moments before class is set to start. They also come when people see me walking down the street, all by myself, with either my guide dog’s harness or my bright purple cane in my hand.
I started losing my vision when I was 16 to a rare brain condition. It was a long, painful journey that was riddled with complications at every turn. Today however I am not defined by that disability or experience.
Now at 25, I am an active member of my home and school community, I am a student with a bright professional career in law ahead of me, and I am a loved daughter and friend to many.
I am also someone who has chosen not to define myself by what society says I can’t do. Well-meaning and able-bodied passersby often have their view of disability drastically changed by interacting with someone like myself.
On a daily basis I get a number of questions or comments that generally take the form of:
- what’s wrong with you?
- why do you have a blind person stick?
- where is your dog’s blind person?
- how much can you see anyways?
- what happened to your sight?
- how did you find your way here?
- (to my friend) it’s nice that you could find a helper your own age
- or my personal favourite: you’re not actually blind, right?
For a considerable amount of time, I was angry at the injustice of people’s actions. When people would ask me any question regarding my vision I would snap at them. I would then proceed to tell them it was none of their business, among other things we won’t repeat here 😉
What I didn’t realize in the moment was that I was slowly isolating myself from everyone, including the friends and family members that had done nothing but love and support me.
Anger is very polarizing – even when it may be intuitively justified.
In a lot of situations people have the right to be angry, they have the right to feel like systems and policies aren’t made for them, and they have a right to express their frustration with the public.
Anger against injustice is natural, and to a certain degree, needed to wake people up to the possibilities of change. But there is a better way to use that emotion.
Living in anger against injustice has the potential to cause people to build up an aversion to you. Instead of taking the opportunity to create an ally or a friend your anger can turn them away; when they tried to help they were met with hostility and rudeness.
However, my Momma always taught me when I was a child that you will catch more flies with honey then you will with vinegar.
Here’s how we can begin to use our anger at injustice in a productive way:
1.Being angry at injustice and angry with people who are unaware of what their actions are causing are NOT the same thing.
In fact, the first is indicative of being an intrinsically good person. The latter, however is indicative of something that needs to change inside of us, first.
For a lot of people including myself, anger is a very big emotion. For me, anger is very closely tied into my fight, flight, or freeze response. If I feel like someone is attacking me, I get my back up, and my body prepares prepares to eliminate any threat (real or imagined) that is being perceived in that scenario.
But that’s the key difference: recognizing the difference between a scenario and a personal attack. Getting angry at others for their ignorance or micro-aggressions they are unaware of, has the potential to completely shut down the conversation.
There’s a better way. We can be true to reality and true to who we are when we separate how we feel about the people and the situation.
2.Recognize that anger’s energy will not give anything back to you in return, but grace will.
There’s a reason why there has been so much new evidence based research around empathy, kindness and generosity — because they really do work.
When you start the conversation off from a place of anger you are going to cause people to shut down and not want to help you individually or help your cause.
Where there is grace, kindness, and empathy then the response you get is the complete opposite.
Soon, you will have more and more people being drawn to you and your cause because now they want to learn more about how to help.
You have essentially drawn more “flies” into your cause.
Today, when I walk down Yonge street in Toronto, and get stopped by someone asking me how I got there, something miraculous happens…
I take a deep breath, ground myself in the knowledge that they are genuinely curious and not malicious, and that this is my opportunity to educate. I calmly explain that my guide dog has routes memorized and that between my voice direction and his training we navigate the busiest of routes with ease, just like they do with their sight.
When someone asks if I am really blind, I remind myself that they are not questioning a piece of my identity. I choose to breathe and explain that blindness takes all forms. I try to also explain that blindness is as a result of a lot of reasons and sometimes it has nothing to do with a person’s eyes but instead is a problem in the processing centres of the brain.
3.When we choose to have a measure of grace and empathy for others it leads to people wanting to learn more, rather than adding to the injustice with which we are acutely familiar.
It’s quite possible that you can create advocates for what you are passionate to see changed simply by letting go of the addictive nature of anger. People are attracted to learn from those who win that trust.
I refuse to let injustice win in my life.
Influencing others to see the power of their own lives to change injustice is a work in progress. I can’t control the outcome.
However, I am in complete control of the one place I choose to defeat the bitterness of injustice every day: in my own heart.
Next Thursday Michelle will be sharing how she has learned to use those moments and encounters as opportunities for influence and education – and how you can do the same. You can hear her interview n the Finding Bravery podcast here.