Lets recap for those who are coming in late...
On February 14th the Washington Post ran a 'Miss Manners' column that included a letter from a gentleman who described himself as an "Insulin-dependent diabetic".
Different people in the diabetes online community had different responses to Miss Manner's (Judith Martin) subsequent advice. Some thought it was fine, some felt outrage, and others thought that she just didn't understand living with diabetes. Many made their feelings public on social media, blogs and other avenues at their disposal. I wrote about it on the Huffington Post.
Today on DiabetesMine.com Mike Hoskins shared his interview with Miss Manners about the subject, among the things he learned, Judith's 46- year old son Nicholas has been a type I diabetic for almost two decades and he is actually the one who wrote the reply to the gentleman's question. It read...
My response to this advice wasn't rooted in diabetes. I did feel as though the advice was antiquated when it came to diabetes, but mostly my response was aimed at how the advice seemed to ignore the tone of the gentleman's letter. I felt like the advice lacked deference to personal freedom, did not address the man's concerns about his actions and ignored, what I saw as, pressure that he was feeling about being himself. The issue felt bigger than diabetes to me and it seemed that I could have swapped the words in the man's note that were specific to diabetes with any number of other lifestyles.
In fact, let's try that. I took diabetes out of the man's letter (just below). Read it again, this time with personal descriptors in place of the diabetes language. I'll bold the words that I've added in place of diabetes related text. What if the letter said...
**DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a businessman who frequently flies both domestically and internationally. I also happen to be a person who is different from others.
I currently live my life in my seat. It does involve things that others are unfamiliar with and could find uncomfortable, but is fairly unobtrusive. Of course, I do my best not to infringe on them.
Am I being rude by be myself next to a stranger? I go into a restroom when I do things that I know others are uncomfortable with. In the airport, I use the counter by the wash basin, since most water closets have no room for my life and the basic things that I need to live and be happy.
Many people seem to stare and resent me when I'm being who I am. I have also had children ask, “What is that man doing? Isn’t that a bad thing?” (They’re obviously thinking of their drug education classes.) Am I too self-conscious?**
That's how I read the man's letter. I felt him asking for guidance that would alleviate the torment he feels, both from himself and from random strangers who are made to feel uncomfortable by his presence. I read the words of a person who wants to fit in but can't figure how, so he is considering hiding himself. That's why the response that I wrote is called, 'Making People Hide Is Never the Right Answer'. I saw a parallel to all of the other social issues that people have to needlessly struggle with in the name of making others comfortable. Why is it not incumbent upon the "others" to make the people who feel judged comfortable? Why do the wants of the many outweigh the needs of the few? Why is the man, who is made to feel as though he should be hiding, the only one who is concerned about how people feel? How did it happen that people confuse being in the majority with being correct, justified or righteous.
In my mind, this man might as well have been asking for guidance about gay rights, racism or living with obesity - Really anything that the masses are comfortable being judgmental about. You may see my view as a stretch, but its how his letter made me feel. I felt compassion for a man who lives with guilt about who he is, a guilt that is unfair, unfounded and often given to him by others. What I wanted for him more than anything else was to feel free of it. I wanted Miss Manners to help him by telling the world that he is no different then anyone else, and that his humanity deserves the same respect that they demand for themselves. The answers that Judith and Nicolas gave to Mike Hoskins don't indicate, in any way, that they see this connection. I understand that the Miss Manners column is about manners, but, and perhaps it's just me, but I am never in favor of marginalizing a person to protect the feelings of another. No one is more important than the next person, and we all have something about us that requires the kindness of another to help us feel included - some of us just have stuff that's a little more visible than others.
The interview at Diabetes Mine is well done, very balanced and clear - not unlike what I've come to expect from Mike Hoskins. Mike blends facts with opinions in a well-written and conscious manner. Despite their rebuttal, I still feel that the advice that Nicholas (in the voice of his mother) gave to his readers ignored every undertone of the man's letter and I am surprised, especially now that I know Nicholas has diabetes, that he didn't choose to forgo "manners" and connect with the man on a more personal level. Perhaps he would say that isn't the goal if Miss Manners and I guess that would be accurate - but I don't find that line of defense tolerable. I do wonder how Nicholas, removed from his duties as Miss Manners, would respond to the gentleman's letter, so far we don't have the answer to that question because they choose to defend, in a very narrow way, their response to the original letter, ignoring all of the rest.
I say, people first... and then we can worry about when it is permissible to wear white.
Links you need
Diabetes Mine Interview with Miss Manners (I hope that you take the time to read this)