the war between the better and the worse

When I saw Glenn Reynolds' link to what he called "a guide to cancer etiquette," I had no idea I would encounter such tidbits of wisdom as this:

there's a growing need for ground rules that prevent us from inflicting ourselves upon one another
While he was talking about the difference between those who are from "Tumortown" (the sick) and those who are in "Wellville" (the well), Christopher Hitchens has a good point. People who think they are victims can be annoying to those who think they are not victims, and vice versa.

This also touches on why most of us are reluctant to admit that there is anything wrong (or, for that matter, to being wrong). People tend towards animal instincts and a herd mentality can develop which makes it very dangerous to admit to any state of wrongness, whether physical, mental, or spiritual. When we do, we open ourselves up to great risk. There's blood in the water, and the sharks come cruising. Frequently, their visits take the form of kindness, advice, and sympathy, but that's just for show. Behind the scenes (and when things are considered safe) they get together and the narrative shift begins.

"Well, you know how much he drinks! It's really no surprise, considering...."

"I feel really sorry for him. I saw my father die of the same disease." (Right, and sonny boy loved the excitement and couldn't wait for the inheritance.)

"He was always eating junk food, and he never exercised, so what can you expect?"

"They say these things are a person's karma, and you know, he seemed very unhappy much of the time...."

If you get sick or injured and have to take off from work, co-workers are often quick to pounce. This sometimes takes the form of outright skepticism, and sometimes envy, and even the most sincere-sounding voices of concern take on an air of phoniness when they're voiced in the herd. It almost makes you want to never get sick, or at least never admit it if you do. Your enemies will see it as a sign of weakness and jump on it, and even your "friends" will feel happy. Being happy over a friend's illness is irrational and animalistic, and they will never admit it, but it is similar to the way friends are often jealous of success and seemingly "supportive" of failure. I'm tempted to say that a "real" friend would never be jealous of a friend's success (nor secretly happy over his failure), except the animalistic nature of people makes realness sound suspect.

If you think physical injury or illness is bad, try admitting to mental illness! It never ceases to amaze me how shrinks will carry on about how "men are in denial" because they won't admit, say, to being depressed. Men are not in denial; they're just realistic enough to know that there's a pecking party out there that can't wait to pounce on the poor suckers who admit to being depressed. The herd loves seeing real evidence of blood in the water!

Admitting to any of these things has consequences.

What the health and wellness people call "denial" is only a form of self preservation.

I'd call them clueless, except I think they know better. After all, the health and wellness people want to be in charge.

MORE: Check out the way the "grieving" niece milks the death of the wealthy uncle in this excerpt from "It's a Gift":

And where were the grievance counselors to feel her pain?

AFTERTHOUGHT: As I don't want to sound overly cynical, I should stress that I admire Hitchens' bravery. He understands the phenomenon he describes, and yet he is willing to go public with his illness anyway. It takes guts.

But it's better than being accused of being in denial by people in denial.

posted by Eric on 11.08.10 at 11:21 PM


I don't know what it is about CV these days but the sermons are better than any I have ever received at any religious organization.

M. Simon   ·  November 9, 2010 4:19 AM

I used to work in a grocery store like that when I was a kid. Spent a lot of time cutting chickens and chopping meat on the chopping block. And scraping it on closing.

Never had molasses in a barrel though.

M. Simon   ·  November 9, 2010 5:25 AM

There is an entire movement in new aged that claims you wish illnesses on yourself and are literally making yourself ill. It always struck me as the worst form of "punish the victim."

I will confess I've never gloated over my friends' illness. OTOH I will not say I've never been jealous of what seems like "easy" success. I just try to remind myself that often things aren't as easy as they look from the outside. And I try to keep it out of my actions.

But the monkey brain is still there, of course.

Sarah   ·  November 9, 2010 8:30 PM

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