My 'Fork in the Road' When Strangers Are Ignorant About Dwarfism
In my experience and that of many others I know, a majority of the public is not very knowledgeable about how to treat a little person. In public, we often see those who are 6’7″ more than those who are 4’0″, so when someone sees a little person they get curious, which often leads to stares or comments. As little people, we already have many stereotypes directed at us, so when people who are uneducated about our condition see a little person, their mind might immediately jump to incorrect images or stereotypes, such as elves from the North Pole, the seven dwarves from Snow White, or something else along those lines.
When I see people staring, taking pictures, or commenting to their neighbor about me as I walk or stand by them, I make myself think it is out of curiosity. After all, these people are looking at me from a one-dimensional point of view. They are unfamiliar with my backstory, personality, and sensitivities. Taking this perspective helps keep the staring or commenting from getting in my head. But sometimes the stares, comments, or actions aren’t as subtle and “behind the scenes” as they usually are, which causes a whole different reaction.
When somebody is subtly talking or staring, I don’t let it get to me. I just walk away or stare back at them (my personal favorite thing to do) and then they will stop their actions. But there are also the people who decide to move in and vocalize their curiosity or displeasure straight to my face. These kinds of situations are where I run into a dilemma comparable to “a fork in the road.” I have the option of retaliating or educating this person or group. Almost every time, I choose to educate.
Depending on the level of hurtfulness and purpose in the insult, I will judge if I need to be strict or understanding when addressing the comment. Almost all of the time, I try to be understanding, but once in a while the comment is too bitter to be nice about, so I respond in a resilient and rigorous manner. As I educate, I hardly ever choose to fire back with an insult of my own. I don’t want to hurt someone else out of my own hurt. I am opposed to adding fuel to the fire because it is possible I will hurt the person in return, and I don’t want to do that. It is not worth it to respond to an offensive comment in anger, as it only escalates the situation and makes me think about it more. Responding in anger would also set the stage for a continuous call-and-response interaction, which could result in mutual damage of self-esteem.
I choose to respond to hate and offense by educating because at the root of these disheartening comments is both curiosity and lack of awareness. Those two empty spots of knowledge in that person might be filled if I speak out and educate. Learning from our mistakes makes us better people in the long run, so we don’t repeat bad or regretful actions. Now, I can’t always say that I educate rather than retaliate, because sometimes I legitimately cannot educate, and I am left with retaliation as the only defense mechanism left. Taking sports as an example, I am not going to throw an abundant load of facts about dwarfism at a person after they just called me a derogatory word in the middle of a hockey game. Since I cannot educate in those circumstances, I end up retaliating. But even if I do retaliate, there is a possibility I can make that player or person realize she did something disrespectful and uncalled for. Hopefully, she can correct her actions after I call negative attention to them.
I would like to challenge all of you, especially the average-height people reading this, to read the list I wrote below of times you should step in to educate on behalf of a person with dwarfism or for little people as a collective. I ask that, after reading this, you keep one or all of these points in your mind so that someday they may come to use, giving you the opportunity to make this a more inclusive and educated society.
When to Step in and Educate People About Dwarfism
When somebody mocks a little person (i.e. putting their knees into their shoes and walking around to appear shorter than they are).
When somebody takes a picture of, or is noticeably staring/pointing at, a little person.
When someone can be seen bullying a little person by excluding them, pushing them to the side, (literally or figuratively), or reprimanding them.
When someone uses the word midget, specifically if it is directed at or about a little person.
If you see anything online mocking or offending little people or a little person, do everything you can to take it down from the internet immediately, as anything online can spread very quickly and be very persuasive/believable to its viewers.
In conclusion, I am sure nobody is going to be able to cover the ins and outs of how to treat every type of person who is different. But, when you see a mistake is made or when an unaware person says something wrong, educate them. Use the five points I previously gave you and tell them there are people in this world who would find their actions or words offensive. This doesn’t just apply to those with dwarfism: it applies to everyone. Whenever you find or witness something offensive, step in and educate. It is the best way to go about it, even though the situation may seem impossible to get around. Even though taking the educational route as opposed to retaliation is much slower and more difficult, it is the higher road of the two, and after all, slow and steady does win the race!
Thinkstock photo by SI Photography.