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My father is an Irishman and he is full of strange, whimsical sayings that sound incredibly wise either because they are, or because hearing them said in his Southern Irish lilt just makes them sound that way. Surely it’s some combination of the two.
“People love to wonder, don’t they?” is his default response to hearing about gossip. “Well, let them wonder.”
People do love to wonder, mostly about what other people are doing and the myriad of ways in which they are living. It’s an international sport, in fact. The sad part is that wondering is often just comparison (that silly thief of joy) in its early, more innocuous stage. Another thing that people love to do, which often occurs after wondering, is make unwelcome comments. And why not? You can do it anywhere! About anything! You can comment on how Nancy is raising her children, you can comment on the diet that Javi just started, you can comment on the state of Jenny’s new apartment and you can even comment on how your best friend Bob just isn’t living up to his potential—how sad! See? Nothing is off limits! Naturally, then, a chronic illness is fair game. I wish I’d had a handbook as a teenager and even in my early twenties about how to deal with people who say dumb things re: diabetes. Would I have listened to it? Not sure. Handbooks aren’t really my thing but I think in this particular case a bit of reductive how-to may have served me well.
Perhaps you live on an island of rainbows and unicorns and you’ve never been subject to the sort of commentary I want to talk about so, if that’s the case, let me explain. First of all I am not talking about the questions that arise from a lack of education. I am not talking about questions at all, actually. When people ask me questions about diabetes, I often get the urge to hug them and/or break out in song (Ray Lamontagne’s “You Are The Best Thing” for example, or Whitney Houston’s “I will Always Love You”). I am, however, talking about the comments that come from the sort of fully grown adults who, I suspect, were given a speech like this one upon birth:
“Hey Billy, hey Barbara, welcome to Earth. There’s only one rule you need to follow here: say whatever you want, whenever you want—you are always right! You don’t need to study or to listen to other people, my babies. You are wise beyond your years. Wherever you go in this world, cling tightly to your unexamined beliefs. Sleep with them each night, rise with them each morning, never let them go. And go forth, my children, to inform the world that you are here and you know better!”
Adults like this might make comments like these:
- You can’t eat that!
- She can’t eat that! (they will, for unknown reasons, find it necessary to inform other people of the dietary restrictions they’ve invented for you)
- I could never do that. I hate needles!
- Oh, poor you, you have the bad kind.
- You can cure yourself with positive thinking.
- Diabetes was caused by a lack of love between your parents.
- It really grosses me out to see you test your sugar/take a shot/(live your life?)
- You must have eaten a lot of sugar as a child.
- That number is really bad… you need to work harder.
- Diabetic people shouldn’t be allowed to have children.
How should you proceed upon hearing these types of comments?
First, ask yourself: Do I care about this person?
If the answer is no, you’re done. That’s it. Give them a cheeky thumbs up, laugh quietly to yourself, and move on with your gorgeous life.
If the answer is yes, ask yourself this:
Is this person willing to learn?
If the answer to that question is yes, try to teach them. They deserve it.
If the answer is no, return to reaction one. Pull out your cheekiest thumb and just walk away (physically if you’re able, mentally if you’re not).
I believe this is one of the most difficult and vital lessons to learn in life with diabetes: you cannot teach everyone. Many people do not want to learn. When people make insensitive comments, it is often because they do not know. And they don’t know because they don’t have to know. Don’t punish them for this, but don’t put up with willful ignorance, either. Energy is always better spent on people whose ears and minds are open to your voice.