Thursday, September 26, 2013

Knowing Better VS Doing Better

Many of you know that I live right in the centre of the city of Toronto. As such there are a number of street folk who make a living asking for spare change, even more who sleep curled up in the nooks and crannies provided by doorways. We have nodding acquaintance with most and are regular contributors to some. I tell you this by way of setting the background for what happened.

Joe and I, on the way home from the post office, stopped at the liquor store to pick up some beer. I've learned almost every possible pathway from the door to where the beer is set out on display. If one aisle is blocked with people or carts, I know the next to go to. It happened to be a day when a lot of shelves were being restocked so I had to make my way further into the store.

I was just coming to my final options, the last passageway, when round the corner came a fellow we have seen working the streets. He had three beer in one hand and two in the other. He wore a bulky, and very stained, parka, that was way to big for him. As he made the turn towards the cash desk I saw his parka brush at a display of vodka, setting one of the bottles rocking dangerously. He noticed it too and stopped, he quickly placed one of the beer in his right hand against the rocking bottle stopping it from falling.

In there somewhere, I'm not sure where, I spoke.


It just came out of me.

There was no thought.

There wasn't a moments space between impulse and speech.

I said: "Be careful there now."

The tone was the one used, in a kindly way, to a child about to knock something off a table. I recognised immediately that I had diminished him with both tone and words. Somehow his adulthood disappeared, my inner sense of superiority (that's the wrong word but I don't know the right word, help if you can) came through.

But it was over. He was at the cash desk, I didn't want to chase after him. I wanted to apologise but I didn't want my apology to draw attention to either him or my behaviour - what if he hadn't noticed?

I should know better.

I do know better.

It's stunning to me how words and tone can rise, quickly, from a place of prejudice and communicate too much about who you are, who I am.

That tone is used on me, too often, as a disabled man, for me not to know how it feels.

And I did it anyways.




Jayne Wales said...

Sometimes my parents come out of my mouth. I say things and just don't know where they come from other than they were said to me. They just arrive and I don't get chance to edit them or stop them. It's years of being told what to do that is sadly still stuck in there and seems to just blurt out.
The fact you thought about it and regretted it is at least something isn't it. Sadly he probably thought you were a pompous person and you never got chance to put it right!
I've done the same myself and thought shit afterwards.

Princeton Posse said...

Don't be too hard on yourself Dave. Sometimes the mouth is engaged before the mind can catch up. At least you recognized it! Perhaps you will see this fellow again and have a chance for redemption.

Deb said...

When I do something like this, something I regret instantly (or on reflection), I can choose to do one of several things.
1) Curse myself, "Stupid, stupid, stupid!"

2) deny I did anything wrong, "He needed to be told..."

3) Use the experience to understand that all of us sometimes say things that are inappropriate, without any *intention* of hurting the person we're speaking to. Use that self knowledge as a ground for compassion for those who may make the same kinds of stupid, inappropriate, off-the-cuff remarks to me. (As you well know those happen!)

I like what Jane said, "Sometimes you do open your mouth and your parent's words come out!" In my case those words were so critical I've spent a lifetime reading that criticism into every voice I hear.

That's still a struggle for me. No one wanted a disabled child in the 1940s. I was constantly harangued and shamed to "work harder" so I could go without bracing and crutches, "stop being lazy", called "stupid" because my legs didn't work. Those voices become ingrained in my psyche, "Not good enough, not good enough, not good enough, shame, shame, shame."

After hearing it all the years I was growing up I incorporated it and rebelled. But was deeply unhappy. I had to find an escape from my anger and belligerence.

Years of therapy helped. :) "Excuse, rather than accuse", has become my motto. I am allowed to be human and make mistakes, not treat people badly, but extend compassion to myself as well as others.

I've written a book trying to say don't be hard on yourself Dave, you don't have to be perfect.

Anonymous said...

"be careful" has the word CARE in it. I use this phrase as a sign of sympathy for another being.

My mother cares for me she is worried sometimes even at the age of nearly forty I decided that it is just a sign of being loved by her. Not as a sign of beign taught or conditioned.

If I stop careing and being concerened for the wellbeing of others, than I will start to worry for my own humanity.