Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Keep It To Yourself: A Life Philosophy

I was reading an article today about a British single parent who died from having gastric bypass surgery, and her motivations for getting the procedure done was to keep her son from being teased for having a fat mother. The little boy couldn't understand why she got the surgery because he didn't see her as fat, he saw her as "mummy" and loved her as she was. And while she wasn't really fat enough to qualify for gastric bypass (that used to be true; you had to be well into obese to qualify for it in the past, but clearly that's not the case anymore when you see what she looked like), a lifetime of being teased left its scar on her and she ultimately succumbed to an allergic reaction to the surgery (an inflammation that resulted in multiple organ failure). That brought back a philosophy that I came up with last year called KITY, or Keep It To Yourself.

I came up with this while on the phone with my uncle who has self-image problems stemming from people constantly saying that he was fat when he was younger but completely forgetting the fact that my aunt actually was fat back then. Many of these comments would come from well-meaning people who say things that are far more damaging than anything a person who dislikes you can do to you. To this day, he's obsessed with his weight and despite the fact that he has tremendous strength from weight-lifting, he still feels the need to lose a few more pounds. I used to spend some of my time reassuring him that he wasn't fat (I guess he wasn't rail-thin as was the fashion in the '80s, but he wasn't fat), but I think he's getting more comfortable with himself now that he has friends to hang out with (yay!). I just wish people wouldn't go out of their way to toss out their two-cents because it can affect people forever.

This applies to not just concerns about fatness, it is also other things that people like to point out that needs to stop. My uncle is very smart [When you graduate high school at 15, I think you can say that without bragging], but he doesn't go around acting as if he's a know-it-all. Still, it hasn't stopped people from from making hurtful comments like "Well, you know everything" or "You think you know so much" when he doesn't even pretend to know everything. If anything, he was my first introduction to the concept of reference librarianship because he would look up the answer to anything you asked him (much to my consternation as a child). He doesn't act like a know-it-all, but the people who accuse him of doing so are the ones who are quick to point out what they know, so I chalk it up to people projecting their ugly habits on someone else.

He's not the only person to get this kind of attack. I still think I'm unattractive because I was never one of the pretty girls in school. If I could go back in time, I would go to Junior High and box the ears of all the guys who would say that I wasn't pretty, but I wasn't ugly either when they would talk about the girls while I was around. I didn't need to be talked about; I wasn't trying to be anything but myself and that was already complicated by the abuse I was taking from that...person my aunt married. I don't think of myself as smart because I wasn't as smart as the top people in school (not that it means anything now), and I had "helpful" people at my family's church who said I was "growing up and out in stature" when I gained weight in college [Was that really necessary?]. It's like the people who used to end up on the talk shows after losing weight because of all the taunting they experienced growing up; the people who did the taunting (and time was usually not kind to those people at all) would always say stupid shit like "You should be thanking me for doing that to you because you lost the weight, didn't you?" because they never got that they were just being mean.

KITY is supposed to be a philosophy where everyone checks themselves before they say something that can be really damaging to someone else. It's supposed to make you stop and think about the consequences of what you have to say before you say it.

Do you really need to tell someone that they're fat and that it's their fault that you don't find them attractive anymore? No. Do you think it's a great idea to talk about how fat you thought someone was as a child as a way to backhand-compliment them on their weight-loss? No. Is it necessary to constantly bring up how person a isn't nearly as bright as person b because person b happened to be one math class ahead of person a? No. I wish I could think of more examples, but I'm sure my readers can think of things that would fall into this category of things-that-never-need-be-said-but-are-said-anyway.

Comments that fall into the KITY category usually come from the people who are supposed to be your friends, or are people who are supposed to be kind or good to you (i.e. family, teachers, church-goers), but non-friends can say these things as well. It just hurts more when it's supposed to be someone on your side. I'm not the only person out there who carries scars from callous teachers and well-intentioned friends, but the scars do fade with time sometimes. Unfortunately, the effects are usually lasting and that's why I want these comments to stop.

If it doesn't help anyone, don't say it. It's a simple concept but it can be so hard for people to get their heads around it.

It's a shame that the woman in this article wasn't able to recover from the slings and arrows of her childhood. She had to leave her son behind, which is not what she wanted at all. She really believed that the surgery would help them both have a happier life. All he really wants is to have his mother back.

So, the next time you hear someone say something exceedingly harmful, tell them about this philosophy. Maybe one of these thick-headed people will get it someday.

I can always hope.


Dan said...

I love KITY! Unfortunately, the majority of people on this earth could care less about their fellow human being, therefore they have absolutely no clue how hurtful a simple phrase can be.

We are a society that has become so wrapped up in ourselves that we have forgotten how to treat each other in a polite manner.

But we can hope!

Beth said...

wow...girl, you smacked me right in the kisser with this one. sometimes the cruelest things come from ourselves...and I am guilty of that.

I agree with Dan...we all need to be simply POLITE to each other. Would it really hurt us that much to say something nice to someone else???

SailorAlphaCentauri said...

I agree with everything you've both said. What is wrong with us as a society that we can't even be nice to each other?

I've seen the damage that hurtful comments can to do to people, so I try to keep this in mind when I want to fly off the handle and come down hard on my husband over something not that important. I still tend to tear myself down...but that's going to require more work.

I remember the adage "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all," but it seems that it's just not enough to get people to stop and think. As much of a pessimist as I am, I'm oddly optimistic when it comes to this philosophy. Maybe this will reach just one person who needs to hear this.

Maybe this is my butterfly hoping to create a typhoon on the other side of the world with a flutter of its wings (aren't I audacious).

Well, if nothing else, maybe we can learn to at least be civil.

I need to start thinking of nice things to say to others. I can't afford to be a hypocrite on this.