Sometimes people tell me I’m amazing. Such a compliment should flood me with pride, right? Nope, not me. My internal reaction is more akin to somebody who has been insulted. Few understand this response, and my explanations do not elucidate. Perhaps what cannot come out of my mouth persuasively will pour from my fingers convincingly.
First, let’s get one thing very clear: I am amazing – smart, funny, creative, a great friend, and sometimes wise. The real problem is the single word that sooner or later is attached to most accolades. “Wow, Jen, I don’t know how you do that. If I were blind…” or “Jen, I’m so amazed at how you
In our minds, we all have a collection of others’ actions we consider typical/average/ordinary/normal in any given set of circumstances. The behaviors usually are not fixed but represent a range of possible acts. For example, typical responses to coming upon a burning building could be anything from calling 911 to turning a hose on the flames, or even smashing in a window to enable a trapped person to escape. Both walking by doing nothing or running into the structure are outside this range. We judge one of these acts to be worthy of praise, and the other deserving of condemnation. Assumptions abound in this highly subjective process that is fundamentally about internalized social norms, cultural expectations, and stereotypes. These behavioral norms and evaluative processes function as social lubricant and have a definite place amongst humanity, but sometimes they can go a wee bit awry.
In order for somebody to find my actions admirable, they must determine that these acts fall outside the range of ordinary behavior in a positive manner. Rather than evaluating me based on what is typical for any person, they use the category of expectations they have for blind people, which are often substantially lower. I do not find it flattering to be told I have surpassed low expectations. Furthermore I find it insulting to expect less of a blind person simply because they are blind.
Most people tell me that “If I were blind, I’d have trouble doing ‘x’
Not convinced yet? Well, I have another reason to loathe such praise. Those we label as amazing are separated from “average folks” by their accomplishments. Being up on a pedestal to be admired creates more barriers between me and my goal of being seen as different without being alien. Nothing would make me happier than to just be Jen, not that amazing blind person who can live all by herself. It strips my individuality while further distancing me from those with whom I should be socially integrated. In fact, it is my experience that friendship is only possible after people stop continually seeing me as an amazing blind person and admire me simply as a person.