The problem with normal people

I was sitting in a cheesy restaurant of a nice hotel having an impossibly bland breakfast. The especially attentive waiter is working toward a great tip based purely on the volume of coffee he’s supplying. He knows I’m not terribly awake and he’s attentive without being talkative. Smart.

Empathic people provide great service – whether they’re a waitron, hair stylist, or therapist. They have a sense of how you feel and what you need. They’re easy to be with.

This, of course, stands in stark contrast to the woman sitting at the next table who is endlessly prattling to anyone who will listen. I love the word, “prattle.” It’s what a high percentage of mainstream people do – they talk a lot without ever saying anything.

She’s dying to start a conversation with me because her daughter is training to become a prosthetist and here I am with a visible prosthesis and so clearly, I will find what her daughter’s learning to be fascinating.

I get it – you’re proud of your kid because she’s going to help unfortunates like myself.

It’s not that I want to sound like a curmudgeon – far from it. I want for people to be more aware, as Henry Miller suggested, “The aim of life is to live and to live means to be aware; joyously, drunkenly, divinely aware.”

If you feel like it’s okay to approach a complete stranger about their disability, please consider your motives. If it’s a genuine desire to relate or to understand, come talk to me. If it’s morbid or idle curiosity, please consider going and f***ing yourself instead of asking me personal questions.

Here’s my favorite one: “Diabetes or accident?”

I’ve been asked that one dozens of times. By adults. Strangers. Really.

Other times folks with frowning faces will simply demand, “What happened?” My most used response is, “shark.”

Human nature in a nutshell: We’re egocentric and when we see/hear of other’s experiences, we imagine those things happening to us. We then evaluate: If the experience is positive we may be curious because we want it for ourselves. If the experience is negative; we want to distance ourselves and return to feeling safe in our own little worlds. For most people, asking about my loss is most often a subconscious attempt to avoid my experiences.

Empathic people don’t do that. We don’t distance ourselves. It’s part of why I need to see a massage therapist on a regular basis: empathic people lean into pain. We relate, and seek to provide relief.

Some scars show – most don’t. My prosthetic is visible four months out of the year. Folks who come to know me between early fall and late spring are uncomfortable the first time they see me wearing shorts. The most common response I get from such folks is a look of shock and the words,

“Oh, I didn’t know.”

Well of course you didn’t. The parts of me that are missing are usually not what I lead with when getting to know someone. Of all the things I might tell you early on in a relationship, the fact that I’m an amputee is not something I’ll lead with.

But I get it. It’s uncomfortable for you because you had this image of who I am, and now that image needs to change. Without even realizing it – you experience a feeling of betrayal. There’s something you see as important about me that was withheld from you. You’re uncomfortable. I’m not. It’s just a tad tedious to experience other people’s reactions about my loss.

Whatever lives in your subconscious can be pulled forward into consciousness. Normal people don’t seem to do that much. Self-actualized people do.

We’re progressively an external culture. We pay a great deal of attention to everything outside of ourselves and very little to what dwells within. I’m not angered by people’s responses. I’m just vaguely disappointed. I want to live in a world where folks are more comfortable with themselves.

If you achieve that – you’ll easily and naturally be more comfortable with everyone else.

If you show me your scars, I won’t ask about them. I’ll just find a way to intimate the two most spiritual words I know: “Me too.”

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.