Thursday, May 19, 2011


I saw a tee shirt that, I think, was supposed to be funny. It said: "I used to care but now there's a pill for that."

I didn't laugh. I don't think it's funny. I think it's kind of true. I feel that we're losing the social contract we have with society and with each other. That unspoken agreement that we are all human, we are all in this life together, and that we all need to watch out for each other.

The other day I spoke with a woman who, due to a serious injury, had to use a wheelchair for a couple of months. She said that what shocked her was both the annoyance that people had as she struggled to get around and the sense of purposeful invisibility that people had to her needs. Doors not held, space not made, time not given ... all of these things combined to give her a sense of desperate hopelessness. She said that she hadn't noticed the lack of compassion in our society until she was of a need of it. Her fear is no longer of using a wheelchair, she conquered that skill and got handy at getting around, her fear is of the social status and the demeaning manners that she will face should she ever come to rely on a wheelchair.

I did not find that I could comfort her with anything more than stories of the every day incidents of kindness I experience. A long time wheelchair user once told me that having a disability gave him an evolutionary social advantage: it was an arsehole detector. Kind, genuine people were easy to spot and stood in stark contrast to those who were not. In a way, I think that's true. Just today, while travelling and stopping to get lunch, a woman very kindly offered to help when I nearly dropped something.  Later that same day a dad with his son helped me out spontaneously. Three people in one day helped in a way that didn't diminish. How cool is that, knowing that they are there? Of course, I met way more, way way more than 3 people - but I choose not to focus on the rest.

As disturbing as it may seem to realize that there is 'a pill for caring', it is equally disturbing that someone would choose to advertise that fact. The desire to anesthetize oneself from compassion of course is a desire to be rid of social responsibility for another. Particularly other others. Those whose numbers aren't listed on your cell phone, those who aren't in your email address book, those who don't 'like' you on Facebook. Those other others, who make up the stuff of society, who have expectations of mannerly interactions and friendly commerce are so demanding.

Maybe someone should, and I think this is a terrific idea,  invent a pill for indifference.


theknapper said...

Idon't want that pill.

J. said...

I had the privilege of listening to Eva Olesson speak last September with my daughter's grade seven class. One of the most powerful sentences she said was, "Do not be afraid of difference. Indifference is the thing to be very, very afraid of."

Liz said...

Wow. Thanks for making me think -- I've always chuckled at that shirt/bumper sticker/whatever. I shouldn't.

Brooke, Phoenix, Cessna, Aspen & Canyon said...

this was written so wonderfully! It's sad to see how many pills there are now to "solve" this and that difference. People no longer have to take responsibility for their actions or learn to adapt to natural changes because "there's a pill for that".

Anonymous said...


I have a daugher with DS and I've always feld she was my bulls**t detector. So, I relate to your "arsehole detector" comment. Kind, genuine people do rise to the top; others quickly self-identify as people not to waste our time on. The ironic thing is since my daughter is such a smart, nice, and funny person that they are the real losers.

Ms. Eyerman said...

I am currently earning my master's degree in secondary education. We are covering "Using power sparingly and grasp the student's point of view" in the classroom. I agree with how teachers sometimes use their force to power the students in their class and as teachers, we need to realize that the students who are the most difficult to manage have their own perspectives on life. Are there any areas that you wish to elaborate? I am presenting this idea to my class on Wednesday and would love to hear some feedback from you. Please email me at
Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I think maybe someone did invent the pill and called it 'e'.
Only joking, maybe I shouldn't because it's a serious point.

Ettina said...

Ms Eyerman
As one of the kids who was 'difficult to manage', I could tell you a lot about that. One big lesson: had any of my teachers taken my parents' advice, they'd have had no problem with me! All I needed was to know the purpose behind everything an adult tried to make me do. If I knew they had a good reason for telling me to do something, and respected me enough to explain that reason to me, I was a great kid to manage. If not, I was a terror!

Noisyworld said...

Ettina-ditto! I was the annoying kid that was always asking WHY? I must have been a real pain in the arse!

I don't understand how people don't care; I have always been sure that compassion is universal, the choice to ignore it is optional.

Kristine said...

I teach middle school, and it actually gives me great hope for society. Adolescence is one of the most self-centered, rude, inconsiderate times of our lives... Yet, I see compassion from my students all the time. They're always willing to help when asked, and I've been very impressed by how good some of them have become at anticipating things I might need help with. My kids will notice little things, sometimes before I even do, and quickly and quietly meet the need, no big deal. I don't feel like it diminishes the respect they have for me as their teacher, but actually really strengthens our relationships. We help each other out reciprocally. And I'm not just talking about the obvious "good kids" that you would expect to be teacher pleasers. I'm talking about plenty of tough kids that other teachers think are just jerks and immature. I get to see a lot of kids' best selves, and I really think a lot of them leave my class as better people than when they entered it.

Outside of my classroom, I've had good friends tell me how much more they notice about accessibility and the world around them since getting to know me.

I think that having real relationships of all types with people with disabilities changes the way people think and behave. The more that we're out there, in the community, participating actively in people's lives, then the more compassion people will develop. Not the pitying kind of compassion, but simply people caring about their fellow human beings.

Anonymous said...

To Brooke Phoneix:

Please don't stereotype us people who NEED to take pills for various purposes.

I take one medication that significantly reduces the number of headaches I get each month. Before I started taking this medication, I got maybe about 2 to 6 days with bad headaches each month--not counting the many more moderate and mild headaches, and had these all of my life. These impaired my productivity at work and my overall quality of life. I do still get headaches, but not nearly as often as before. How is taking a medication to improve my productivity at work a failure to take responsibility for my actions?

I have known people who take meds for various purposes including depression, attention deficit disorder, and other conditions. None of them are looking for an excuse to avoid responsibility. These are people who have tried life without the meds--sometimes enduring enormous frustration or pain for years and years because they, like you, thought that taking meds would mean there was something "wrong" with them for not being able to just decide to "snap out of it" or sustain their concentration without completely draining their energy or otherwise "adapt to natural changes."

Maybe there are a few people who do lean on meds as an excuse to avoid responsibility (even if I haven't met them). But guess what? There are ALWAYS people around who don't want to take responsibility for anything. They would still be around even if we didn't have pills for them. They would just find another excuse to use instead.

I find it insulting to define pills as automatically all bad or all "sad". Pills are not for everyone and that's fine--no one should have to take pills if they don't want to. But for some of us, our lives have been greatly improved--including the ability to fulfill more of our responsibilities than we could without them!! And, yes, including more ability to adapt to what issues the pills can't help with (some conditions inherently make it difficult to creatively adapt, sometimes the right meds can help).

If pills aren't right for you--then don't take pills! But please don't speak in such negative, denigrating terms about those of us who do.

theknapper said...

was thinking about that saying and how at times it can be hard to care because it can hurt or be frustrating or a number of uncomfortable experiences and sometimes you want to numb it.....yes it may have meant to be funny but it can also say I've had enough, need a break

Anonymous said...

I took it as meaning caring what other people think of you, which can be a bad thing if you care too much about other peoples negative judgements of you