Making People Hide Is Never the Right Answer

We run from things that we don't understand and when we can't run, we demonize the people who are different from ourselves.
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I'm assuming that if I asked Judith Martin for advice in her 'Miss Manners' column about how I should respond to outdated, hurtful and harmful advice that I read in the newspaper, she wouldn't suggest for me to do what I am about to. I imagine that in Ms. Martin's day, proper people would smile, swallow their thoughts, mask their feelings and allow themselves to be marginalized, you know, so people like Judy could be comfortable. Here's the thing 'Miss Manners', it's not 1950 anymore and the world has evolved significantly since society cared which fork was for their salad.

In a recent column, you gave advice to a man that described himself as an "insulin dependent diabetic." He never said if he had type I diabetes, type 2 or LADA, he asked you if he was needlessly being "self-conscious" about testing his blood glucose in public. The gentleman's question offered you an opportunity to act as a human being and to answer with regard to the feelings and esteem of countless millions whose very lives depend on testing their blood glucose throughout their days and nights. You could have dispensed advice that would have empowered the gentleman and people everywhere who have to navigate a life full of stress, complications and uncertainty. You had the real opportunity to teach people about acceptance, brotherhood and empathy, but instead you reached down deep and answered with advice that felt like it was taken directly from a time long past and rightly forgotten. Advice that shames people into ignoring their health.

You failed your reader by ignoring that he felt self-conscious and then you went on to let him down in more ways than I could count, not the least of which was to advise him to literally closet himself. All he required was for you to reassure him that it was not just acceptable for him to tend to his personal requirements with pride, but that it is required by a civil society. It wouldn't have taken much effort to use his gentle question to inform your readers that people with health needs have just as much right to live their lives out in the open as the next person. It would have been so easy for you to use your influence to help make the world a better place, but instead you oppressed a man, alienated a community and told anyone who wasn't sure of the right thing to do, that it's permissible, expected and proper to demand that some people be expected to hide as they live their lives.

I don't know what tradition your column hopes to hold onto and I'm not certain what it is that you are hoping to preserve with your antiquated ideas of what is proper, but I can't wait until you go away and make room for a person who will defend humanity, even when it's defense requires us to break a few ancient "rules" in the name of what is right.

To the gentleman that asked Miss Manners in reference to testing his blood glucose in the course of managing his health if I am, "being rude to perform this test next to a stranger?", I'd like to offer my advice, though I know that you haven't asked for it.

I want to begin by telling you that I don't have diabetes, but I am the father of a 9-year-old girl who was diagnosed with type I diabetes when she was only 2. My advice is this. If everyone understood what your life with insulin dependent diabetes consisted of, no one would as much as raise an eyebrow as you tested your blood glucose. The fact of the matter is this: As in any walk of life, diabetes has intricacies that only the initiated can fully understand. In a perfect world, we'd all have time to fully digest all that goes on in the lives of the people around us, but in reality, it is not reasonable for the world to take that time. Selfless advocates can try to educate, and they will have some luck, but they can't reach everyone with all of the information that it would take for each of us to respect, without judgment, the lives of others. All we can do is live our lives proudly and count on time to act as humanity's teacher, just as it has done for generations.

It's funny, isn't it? When a racist person speaks up, their nonsense is protected by free speech. If a citizen decides to stand at a soldier's funeral holding vicious signs and screaming unthinkable attacks, we'll send a police officer to protect them from the grieving family, as it is their right to protest, but not within the family's rights to stop them. However, when you need to strike a small hole into your finger to extract a pinhead sized drop of blood so that you can be certain that you are safe and healthy -- then "manners" dictate that you should hide. Maybe not funny, but interesting and worth examining. We protect bigots, we allow the judgment of others and we are willing to put childlike squeamishness ahead of a fellow human's health and happiness. Our society has gotten it into its mind that the wants of one outweigh the needs of the many, but common sense and common dignity indicate just the opposite.

I'm reminded of something that I told my son recently as he worked on a civics report about Japanese interment camps. I told him, "You can't take away my freedom to protect yours, because once you do it isn't freedom anymore, you've bastardized it and taken away it's intent. Once we set foot on that slippery slope, where does it end and who gets to say what is right and what is wrong?" Ms. Martin told a man who lives with a disease that he did nothing to contract and would likely give anything to be free of to hide as he tries to manage his health. Why? Why was Judith Martin's first thought not of the man, why didn't she feel his anguish and strive to comfort him? Why wasn't it her first inclination to make being human beautiful and ask others to join her?

The world is a simple place that we allow to become convoluted. We run from things that we don't understand and when we can't run, we demonize the people who are different from ourselves. The irony, of course, is we all do something that someone finds different and perhaps uncomfortable at first glance, but far too few of us ever take the time to consider that obvious truth. The world could be simple if we just gave the love that we hope to get. If I put you before me and you do the same, we are all looked out for and everyone gets to live their life unfettered. Simple.

Sir, I don't see the testing of your blood glucose levels as different from any right born from human decency. I'm appalled that someone with a pulpit the size of Ms. Martin's would suggest that you should hide in a "restroom." I wonder how Judy would feel if a person with access to national media shamed her into retreating to a public restroom. Do you think that she would welcome having to open a pathway into her bloodstream multiple times each day in the restroom of a plane or anywhere else that hoards of strangers relieve themselves. I wonder if she even considered your health, both mental and physical, for a moment when she gave you that terrible advice.

I don't have the time to explain my daughter's type I diabetes to the world and frankly, I shouldn't have to. No one deserves to be scrutinized by onlookers and people who would baselessly pass judgment on a fellow human being should take note. There are things in my life that you may not understand, just as I am sure that you are doing things with your life that you feel are completely normal, private things that you would prefer not be examined -- who knows, if I elected myself the arbiter of what is acceptable, maybe I wouldn't agree with your choices or the tasks that you have to complete to live. Perhaps I'd be more comfortable if you hid away. Is that the etiquette that we should expect from one another, is that the message that the Washington Post wants to be responsible for disseminating to its readers through 'Miss Manners' column? Maybe it's time we stop being so politically correct and try being humanely correct.

My daughter doesn't hide; my family lives life proudly and in full view. I believe that the freedom to do so is our most basic desire and should be embraced by all. No matter your color, sexuality, religion or health issue, I wish for you the courage and freedom to be yourself and do what you need to do to live as you see fit. Decent people won't judge you, many will have your back, and the rest will either catch up or become as irrelevant as Judith Martin.

Scott Benner is the author of the award winning book, 'Life Is Short, Laundry Is Eternal: Confessions of a Stay-At-Home Dad', a diabetes advocate and a father who did not appreciate Judith Martin's point of view on personal freedom.

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