Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Warm Hats Not Hot Heads

I finished the hat for my Representative!  I need to block it before I send it, but it's done.  I may knit another (Ellen, I'll be sure to tell you who the next one is for if I can get to it in time).
Something happened the other day that drove home to me (as if I needed any more evidence, after reading about the death threats levied at a 78-year-old woman, for example) the need for everyone to see the humanity of not only those with whom we agree, but also those with whom we disagree.

I was getting blood drawn at my home (nothing serious - just an insurance thing), so the insurance company sent someone to my house early on Friday morning.  We chatted a bit as he set up his briefcase and got out the things he'd need to get the job done, and he settled down to fill out my forms.  When he saw my name, he said, "Jocelyn.  Huh.  Do you remember Joycelyn Elders?"  I agreed that I did.  He went on, "Talk about a waste of a human being."

I was floored.  Waste of a human being?  Really?  I couldn't believe that someone was sitting at my kitchen table, saying something like that, as if I would agree with him.

He went on from there, and you can imagine what it was like.  But it was that initial statement that stuck with me.  Talk about hateful and inflammatory rhetoric.  There are grounds upon which one might disagree with someone's politics.  But to dismiss their humanity, that's something else again.  That's dangerous.  To relegate someone with whom one disagrees to sub-human status is to free one up to do some pretty frightening and inhuman things.  It is exactly this sort of demonization that we all need to stand against.

I'll tell you something else.  I was a coward.  That man, sitting in my home, was about to stick needles into my body, and I said nothing.  I mean, actually nothing - I sat in total silence until he ran down and changed the subject.  That was pretty cowardly.  I hope that this hat is a little louder than I was. 

22 comments:

Kim said...

Same guy came to my house.

Anonymous said...

I can definitely understand not wanting to pick a fight with somebody who has come to draw your blood, but had you considered contacting his company and asking them to ask him to keep his poisonous opinions to himself when he makes house calls?

Miss 376 said...

Sometimes we are so shocked by what we've heard, it's hard to think of the right thing to say.

Lori said...

you've never struck me as the cowardly type. i'd have been so stunned by what he said i probably couldn't have put thoughts and words together. and you're right, it's the clear assumption of shared belief that's so shocking. honestly, even sitting thousands of miles away i struggle to come up with an instant response. as the morning passes, i'm sure i'll come up with all sorts of strong comebacks but right now the surprise is too great.

waste of a human being. what do you even say to that.

India said...

In this case, remember, HE was the one with the needle! I would not want to argue with someone who was about to search for my vein with that very sharp and pointy implement. But you're speaking out here. I think one of the best results of this campaign is that it's getting many of us to thinking about how civility/demonizing/humanizing works in our own daily lives, not just on the larger political stage.

KnitNana said...

I concur with India. I had a KNITTER - and oddly enough, a friend - come at me with venom about what an "idiotic, idealistic thing" this knitting hats for politicians was "and everyone (she was speeking to) agreed on that point" (I was told). In fact, I was informed unceremoniously that the knitting group I was announcing the project to was "not going to do this as a charity project when there were worthwhile, honest charities in the community that were needing our endeavors."

Oddly enough? I didn't suggest that the group chose it as a charity project. I was announcing the project, suggesting that if anyone wanted to participate to speak with me AFTER the meeting.

That is all...

Apparently, I was able to hold my own against her vitriol until I'd stated my peace, but I don't actually remember that - I was told afterwards. Stunned by her response ... as you were.

Supposedly this woman is a liberal. All it told me is that there are radicals on each side of any issue. And your's definitely is one of them. As is mine.

I'd love to think that our project will make a difference - I do think it will, IF we can get enough...and I'm almost through my first hat. I think I'll certainly have to knit another.
(((hugs)))

elizabeth said...

I was shocked just reading it, I can imagine how you felt! That's terrible, and I strongly urge you to call your insurance company and relate what happened. This man shouldn't be anywhere near women, as I imagine the only reason he could hate Jocelyn Elders so much is because of the masturbation controversy (unless I'm forgetting something about her tenure).

twinsetellen said...

This is exactly why we are doing this crazy idealistic thing. Do I really believe that knitting a few hats will dramatically change all the recipients? Of course not. But I KNOW it has changed many of the knitters. And if it moves one politician one iota towards a more civil world, that is a success, too.

I fully respect those who don't see the same value equation - I do wish they wouldn't belittle mine (ours), though.

Joce, I'm so sorry you had to endure that and now feel like a coward in your silence. I beg you, don't. Shocking statements are naturally met with shock. And self-preservation, especially in the face of what you are unlikely to change, is smart, not cowardly.

Kim said...

Sometimes I get so surprised by what someone says that I can't think of a way to disagree until much later. I don't want to just react to the situation, I want to respond in a way that opens up discussion or at least space for disagreement. So I get stuck.

Rachel said...

What a shame we can't instinctively answer something like this with:

You are the waste, please collect your things and get out of my house NOW!

and then call his company,complain about him and get them to send someone polite and professional to do what he needed to do with you.

Please note, I started with we can't. I most probably would have been as quiet as you if it happened to me.

Alwen said...

I've done that, too. It takes me a while to collect my thoughts, and meanwhile the person is usually rambling on!

(Weird to read this, as I just had a blood draw this morning.)

Gwen said...

Oof. I am the same kind of coward. I have awe inspiring conversations in my head for days afterwards, but it never helps the next time it happens.

Though, ultimately, I think not engaging is a legitimate response. Yuck. Poisonous.

Carrie#K said...

I'd be floored by something that vitriolic myself. I've agreed to disagree on plenty of issues where we weren't going to meet any middle ground but, other than evil people, (which sadly I know a few) to deny humanity and life......wow.

On the plus side, you can think of a rejoinder that might make them rethink their stance, next time it comes up. Which will be hopefully never.

Anonymous said...

First of all, even though I am not a knitter (I crochet) I enjoy your blog tremendously and check it almost every day to see whether you've added a post. I love to see the items you make, and also really enjoy your comments on knitting, linguistics, etc. as well as the anecdotes that you share about your family, travels and your pet(s).
Your project is an interesting one and hopefully it will help with civility in public discourse.
The only caveat that I would add is to second the point that KnitNana made - there are uncivil, rude, unkind people on almost any side of any issue. I am a (gasp!) conservative and would not dream of saying that someone was a waste of space (my Christian faith teaches me that each and every person is precious to God). Personally, in my 58 years I have met obnoxious people from every side of the political spectrum (and have personally been very rudely and unkindly treated by some liberals).
(and not all theologically conservative Christians are politically conservative by a long shot - it doesn't do to pigeonhole people)
I have also met kind, generous people from all sides of the political spectrum.
So many times the question from "Mars Attacks" comes to mind - "Please, little people, can't we all just get along?"
I forget which of the founding fathers told another man that even if he disagreed with what that gentleman said, "I will fight to the death for your right to say it."
We are all Americans, after all, and should respect one another's rights to our individual opinions, even if we disagree with them.
(That being said, the man who came to your house was both rude and unprofessional and I also would encourage you to report him to his company.)

EGunn said...

I think I would find it hard to argue with the guy with the needles. And I'm not sure that someone voicing that kind of opinion is open to changing it. Sometimes I think they're in it for the rise they get out of people, and that refusing to acknowledge is just as (or more) powerful a statement as a rebuttal.

What amazes me most is not the vitriol, but his lack of awareness that making that kind of connection to your name just before sticking you with a needle might be just a little unprofessional. Almost a violent threat, really. In any case, I'm glad he's gone!

Laurie said...

I agree with Anonymous and Miss 376. I probably would not have said anything either, but would have reported him to his company afterward. I used to attend a very progressive, edgy knitting group, and one of the women in the group emailed me privately wanting to start a separate group for "people like us". Huh??? I didn't know much of anything about this woman, so I looked her up on Facebook and found that her hero is Sarah Palin. How on earth she EVER thought I was "like her" is beyond comprehension, but it made me a little worried...

Honestly...I struggle every day with the social and political climate in this country. Our new governor is systematically destroying the state after being in office less than a month and pretty much daring anyone to stop him. Ugh...

Another Joan said...

First: Totally get the flummoxedness that led to speechlessness. Second: That person MUST be reported to the company because he was (a) unprofessional in his comments and (b)it seems to me that your underlying feeling was one of fear. That is totally inappropriate and he is NOT representing your insurance company well. For instance: if he behaves like that, how will the insurance company he represents behave should you need it?

Bea said...

Oh. I would have been floored too, but than I would probably have bounced back and given him a piece of my mind.

marit said...

I had to look up Joycelyn Elders in Wikipedia, I thought after what that person said she must at least be a mass murderer...instead I found a strong woman with strong opinions. It is really sad that we (or he especially...) cannot accept each others different opinions. I don't think you are a coward for not saying anything to him! I agree with the other commenters too, and Miss 376 said just what I mean...

M-H said...

Being a kiwi Aussie I had to look her up too. But I would definitely contact his employer. Even bringing up a political subject is really unprofessional behaviour from a health professional, let alone what he said - especially in *your* home! I would like to think that I would have stood up and said "I'd like you to leave now", and then contacted the company and requested that they send someone else and told them why. But, like you, I would probably have sat still. Except that, as he was leaving and having had time to think, I might have said something like "It's not a very good idea for you to assume political positions from your patients", or something similar.

In short, his behaviour wasn't what the company would expect, and they have a right to know about it.

AlisonH said...

Good heavens.

Sometimes having your jaw on the floor, speechless, is the loudest and best rebuke of all. You did the right thing.

Anonymous said...

Please gentle with yourself! I think one of your previous posters said it best: Shocking statements are naturally met with shock.

I would call his company, tell them his comment under the circumstances were frightening and unprofessional, and that if they send him to your home again you will not let him in.

Hugs,

Carol in MA