Wrapped in humour it’s still intolerance!

Yesterday when queueing in the bank I came across a local man I know called R, who I affectionately describe an an oddball. I’ve known him and his wife for many years and they have a child at Kieran’s school. R is completely harmless, and extremely intelligent in his own way. I’m not 100% sure of the history but I believe R does have some mental health issues.

Anyway, in the bank…. R was ahead of me in the queue. He turned and asked me if I’d ever kept ferrets. “No, I can’t say as I have R” I smiled, “Well it’s something you need to do before you die” he replied, “Well, I’ll put it on my list R” and on it went, harmless banter. When it was his turn, he went to the window and quoted a proverb to the girl behind the desk, he was there not 20 seconds and I doubt it’s the first time he’s done this. He smiled, wished the girl a fantastic day and went on his way.

Not the most “usual” banking experience, but no harm done. It’s what happened after that made me so angry. As soon as he left, everyone started laughing, poking fun at him, questioning the girl behind the desk who was now dealing with my query… you get the picture. I could feel my neck then my cheeks getting red. “Ha ha, did you see….“, “Seriously, what is he doing?“, “What was the point in that hahaha”.

I lost my temper a little. “He isn’t doing anyone any harm!!!” accompanied with scowls all around. It went quiet for a moment. I finished my transactions and left, the door hadn’t quite shut when I heard it start again.

For two pins I could have gone back in and really let rip, but I didn’t. I imagine if I had gone back in and accused them all of being intolerant, discriminatory, picking on someone with a disability they would have been aghast, and protested fiercely. You see, prejudice, intolerance, discrimination, and bullying are all dirty words and no-one takes part in any of that, not at all, never, what a thought! But you know they do, by laughing, by poking fun, by being generally unkind. Isn’t it the same thing? Perhaps I am over-thinking this, after all – he didn’t hear them laughing at him so what is the harm?

Personally I think it boils down to how society works nowadays. Discrimination is not acceptable so it rarely happens openly, but frequently occurs behind closed doors, under breaths, wrapped up in laughter. It’s still the same ugliness, just with different packaging.

Do you see this “behaviour” in your everyday life? Has it become so veiled or worse, normal, that you barely notice it anymore? I’d love to hear your thoughts!!

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    1. Hard pressed! I half-wished I’d gone back in for round two but firstly, it wouldn’t have made any difference to their thinking, so a waste of my time on people who aren’t worth it and secondly, if I rant at everyone who I hear acting like this – I’d be constantly at it 🙂

  1. A good friend of mine has Asperger’s, we’ve known him/them for 15 years, and have become totally used to his “quirks” and “different attitude” (his terms, not mine, that’s how he puts it) and don’t even bat an eyelid most of the time, when he may say something maybe not so socially acceptable, or be a bit “quirky”, but I have noticed other people around us seem uncomfortable, or look patronisingly amused, by him. It does wind me up, people are all different, and we all have our issues and problems, people with mental health issues or conditions like Autism or Asperger’s just have a different view on life and handle things differently. Ironically R (my friend is also an R) is an excellent teacher and is fabulous with children, probably because they don’t have our adult hang ups, but struggles to get work, because he doesn’t cope with interviews, and the whole “socially acceptable” thing society has set up.
    I have worked in mental health, have two friends with mental health issues that impact their daily lives, and I have seen how rude and ignorant people can be. I have a hilarious story I tell.
    When I was a student nurse, doing an adult mental health placement in North London, I was working in a “rehab” unit for adults with acute but ongouing issues. We had one lady, call her Kathy, who had personality/paranoia issues, but who was very gentle and funny, and lovely. She struggled with some social aspects of life, she was quite uninhibited. She wanted to go shopping to buy a bra, so she and I went off to the local department store, (bit posh, “never knowingly undersold” – you know which one I mean? 😉 and went to the lingerie section. A slightly patronising, and annoying sales person obviously decided that Kathy and I were a bit dubious, so was lingering and lurking as we perused the bras and knickers, and had a bit of a laugh and a joke, and Kathy had a very dirty, wicked laugh, so she wasn’t exactly being subtle or discreet. The sales lady came over and asked us if she could help, and Kathy, bless her, pulled up her shirt and revealed her rather manky old bra and said “I think I need a new one, don’t you?” The sales lady went purple, muttered something, and scuttled off to the desk, where she and her friends behind the til proceeded to chunter, not very quietly about “people like that” and “shouldn’t be allowed out”. Thankfully the lady who eventually came to help us fit and choose a new bra for Kathy, was lovely, and very unphased by the whole situation, but at the end, I actually went across to the first sales person, and explained who we were, and pointed out that not only did she need to learn some manners, but also as an employee in a major company, she needed to go and brush up on her knowledge of the anti discrimination laws, and that Kathy had some issues, but that made her no different from any other customer shopping for underwear, and that I was complaining to the management. I left her going an even darker shade of purple and mouthing silently! I know Kathy “shouldn’t” have shown the lady her bra and boobs, but clearly she had issues, and a little bit of humour and tolerance, and help, would have made the situation much less tense, and not a big deal. It was one of many tastes I have had of how intolerant society can be, towards those who have mental health issues. Very sad, really.
    Sorry, that was long.

    1. Long but very valid! Thanks for taking the time to post it. I worked with the National Autistic Society for years (Adult Services) and the “looks”, the veiled comments etc used to drive me bonkers. You would think that in this day and age people would be able to look past people’s differences and see them for who they are, not for what quirks they may have. And by quirks, I mean those wonderful parts of their personality and make-up that makes them unique.

  2. You are quite right, and good on you for saying something – not many people (me including, probably) would have had the courage to do that, despite thinking it – I would have been so cross and upset on his behalf, and on behalf of Kathy.
    I think a lot of intolerant behaviour comes down to ignorance – people don’t know how to treat members of society who are in any way different, and that makes them uncomfortable, and it might even boil down to nervousness. I don’t mean to make excuses, because there are none (in my opinion) for treating anyone disrespectfully, but until people become more accepting of “quirks” or “foibles”, I can’t see it changing much. The thing is, how to teach people that there are no abnormalaties – just differences.

  3. It is really surprising how people behave when faced with someone slightly different to themselves. A few years ago I took my mum shopping in a wheelchair (she’s got a chronic health condition that meant she couldn’t walk far at that time, but has since improved, well enough to go shopping anyway!) and it was quite an experience. Suddenly she was invisible – people in shops spoke to me instead of my mum and I lost count of the number of people who nearly ended up in her lap because they couldn’t see this bloody great wheelchair I was pushing! Sounds funny, but had a bloke ended up falling on her it would have caused her a lot of pain. Then when we stopped in Starbucks to get a coffee she got some horrified looks because she stood up and walked to the loo (what a fraud, using a wheelchair when she could walk!).
    I think everyone should try spending a day in a wheelchair, it’s a real eye-opener. And not just because physically getting around is a lot harder, either.

  4. Sadly, this kind of behaviour is all too common. I do think people laugh to cover up their own embarrassment . As the eldest child with 2 younger brothers, my youngest who is now in his 40’s has Autism . He is unable to talk and has many mannerisms and noises that he uses to communicate. As a young girl who was only 5 yrs older than him I used to get mortified when I was asked to take him out in public. He looked completely “normal” in fact he was the most beautiful child with blonde curly hair, people would always comment on how he looked and then when he started jumping up and down and flapping his hands about or making his “sounds” they would recoil in shock! I was even told to take the “retard” home once and lock him up. We had many negative experiences with him, so I suppose I became a champion of all disabled people and hate any sort of discrimination against them.
    I would most certainly have spoken up in his defence and given those people a right gob full!
    Sorry rant over.
    Well done on a wonderful post and for bringing it to peoples attention. If just one person thinks twice before being unkind in the future, your job is done xxx

    1. Autism, being a “hidden” disability (ie no physical “manifestations”) makes it harder for some people (who I don’t defend) to get their head around the condition. Perhaps people on the spectrum should all wear badges *scornful expression*. What an awful experience for you and your brother.
      As you know, I worked with the National Autistic Society BC (before children) and I remember people being pretty awful about some of the service users when we were out and about.
      Thanks so much for commenting.

  5. It’s so sad that harmless people are the butt of other peoples jokes!
    I would have been angry just like you! Well done you for at least saying something. x

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