The other day I met another lawyer at a restaurant for a drink after work to talk business. While making my way through the bar in my chair, I saw several people I knew. As I stopped to say hello to one — yet another damned lawyer — her friend remarked after meeting me, “It’s nice to see you getting out.” That always cracks me up. So I said, “Yeah, the work-release program at the prison is great.” The confused and then worried look on his face was priceless, but after letting him squirm a few seconds I let him off.
I get that kind of comment fairly often, but it makes me wonder about not only the perception of paralyzed folks but also the motivation for saying something like “it’s nice to see you getting out.”
First of all, I understand that there are probably lots of paralyzed folks who don’t have the motivation, the means, or the business and social life to cause them to undertake the bit of extra effort it takes to get out. But I made the choice long ago to live life as fully as I would if I hadn’t broken my neck, and to never feel sorry for myself for the fact that I’m just a little inconvenienced because I can’t walk or use my hands on my way to accomplishing everything I want to.
I’m pretty sure I “get out” more often than that guy, but he somehow felt sorry for me. He wanted to know why I’m in the chair, and when he asked, I told him, “I’m just lazy.” Again a momentary bewildered look. But by then he had figured out that I was teasing him. So after I told him the real reason was breaking my neck in a diving accident, he asked, “How long have you been in the wheelchair?” And I told him, “Since about 7:00 a.m.” After I toyed with him, he may have started to figure out that he needn’t feel sorry for me.
He was a nice guy and he likely just had empathy or sympathy for what he thought must be a difficult or unhappy life for me. But little did he know my life rocks — probably in ways he hasn’t yet experienced — even though it’s a little more difficult than before I broke my neck.
I always wondered why people feel compelled to share with someone they’ve just met their empathy or sympathy for them. It’s like they are unwittingly playing the “victim-card” for the target of their empathy or sympathy.
I’ve come to believe that if we let people feel sorry for us, we start to feel sorry for ourselves. And though I sometimes feel sorry for others because their lives seem to be plagued with “suckitude,” I choose not to let them know I feel sorry for them (beyond simple condolences for the loss of a loved one, etc.). That’s because I don’t want to enable any victim mentality by providing any reason to think their situation or life is “unfair.” But it’s also because I try not to pity anyone. When we “pity” others we don’t really respect them because we don’t think they can handle their own particular adversity and live happy, rewarding lives. We don’t seek out people we pity, to ask their advice or include them at parties (except maybe as a token). We don’t want to be like the people we pity.
I’ve lived the past 31 years in a way that says “don’t ever feel sorry for me” and that has paid off big-time in numerous ways. Though my life might be a little harder, and though people might have a hard time believing it, my life is awesome!