Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Subtle Prejudice

A friend of mine had a disturbing thing happen to her the other day. Oh, not the severe injury to her hand, complete with severed tendons and so on, but after that. She went to her doctor. For surgery.

Now you have to understand, this friend of mine is fairly well trained in anatomy. She knows the names of body parts I don't even know I have. (Come to think of it, there probably are a few that I don't have, and you can bet she knows the names of those, too.)

On her way to hospital the first time, she kept sneaking peaks at the damage and clearly saw the severed tendons. Me, I would have just seen blood and gore, but she was able to identify the little bits that were here and there.

She gets stitched up, goes home, and then later goes to see her doc. He is the one that is highly recommended, a veritable specialist in the field of reconstructive surgery. Unfortunately he leaves a lot to be desired in the interpersonal communication field.

She tells him that her tendons were severed, and proceeds to describe the wound in fairly good detail. He practically smiles and pats her on the head, telling her that all she needs is a bit of cosmetic clean-up and all will be fine.

"No," she says, "my tendons were severed and need to be reconnected."

He smiles condescendingly and tells her that if that were the case, she'd wake from her surgery with a cast on her hand.

Which she does.

Now, a few weeks later, the whole mess is growing together none to well and this doctor still doesn't want to even give her the time of day, much less acknowledge that she might actually have some idea as to what is happening in her own hand.

This is where I came in.

She phoned me up and gave me an earful of angst, venting as she needed, while I tried to sort out what I was hearing. Suddenly, as her high-pitched voice described her trauma with medical accuracy, it became clear. She was the victim of a prejudice most of us have never even considered.

If she had been of a racial minority, everyone would have screamed "racism", and in fact some may rightly scream  "sexism", but neither of those are accurate, as far as I can tell. No, I think she was the victim of a prejudice a little more subtle than either of those.

A few years ago, a dear friend of mine told me of a prejudice that she had noticed. She was blonde, and had a high-pitched voice. Whenever she offered a contribution in consultation, it seemed that nobody really paid much attention. This got to her when she would notice the same contribution made by another, and they would be listened to.

It was not an ego thing for her, but an obeservation that annoyed.

To test her theory, for it really was a theory in my own mind, I cautioned another friend of something I was going to try in consultation one evening. She was aware of my intention, and played right into it.

When she wanted to make a contribution, I took down, word for word, everything she said. As expected, her contribution was not even acknowledged. I then raised my hand, and when called upon to speak I repeated word for word exactly what she said.

My comments were well received, and people began to build upon what I had said.

That was when I held up my hand and said, "Wait a minute. Do you realize what you have just done?" I explained how I had merely repeated, verbatim, what my friend had said and tried to lovingly point out the discrimination that was inadvertantly shown.

As you can imagine, there was a bit of denial at the first, but then a quick acceptance to try and be very conscious of this dynamic in the future. Like I said in a previous posting, we need to be aware of these minor discrepencies and do what we can to correct them, all the while giving the friends the benefit of the doubt. Unlike the physician mentioned earlier, we, at least, are eager to overcome our prejudices.

I hadn't actually thought much of this particular story, but when I related it to my friend who had hurt her hand, it really disturbed her. She phoned me a few days later (a couple of days ago now) and asked me to post it here. So here it is.

I had originally toyed with the idea of opening up with a blonde joke, but decided that would be crossing a line I didn't want to push. See, I do actually have some boundaries, or perhaps, good taste.

As I have told this story to a few other people, they asked me if I would include something about age-ism here, too, but I don't feel up to it right now. I'll just mention that some feel that we don't pay enough attention to the youth as we ought to, or give them enough credence in consultation.

Maybe I'll address that tomorrow.

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