Monday, May 26, 2008

Sun Poisoning and Personality Politics...

Thanks to everyone for the suggestions on dealing with this.... "stuff"... on my face.

I can't stand people who go into graphic details about their medical issues and I'm not going to be one of them. Let it suffice to say that I should only go out with a bag over my head. (Instead I'll settle for a wide-brim hat and sunglasses.) Sores are ugly. There's no getting around that. If I saw me in public, I'd wonder. The first few times I went out, I got a variety of questions, most people wondering if I'd been beaten up or been in an accident. That got me to thinking about the way we react when we see someone who is disfigured. In my case, scabs and a swollen eyelid.

Human beings are attracted to beauty by nature, even though our definitions might be different.

Maybe we become shocked by the potential of our body's rebellion, its ability to create such ugliness.

Maybe we're just afraid of what we don't know. It could be contagious.

So.. What do you think when you see someone in public who has obvious facial disfigurement?

The only significant outing I've had this weekend was a meeting at the wat that couldn't be avoided. I've sort of ended up on "the committee", the group of people who are actively involved with running the place. I don't "run" anything, of course, and don't have that aspiration but do believe that if I am going to go there, I have an obligation to be of service. The president of the wat calls me the "public relations person."

An ego title. Fundamentally meaningless. All it means to me is that I can make sure questions are answered, ads are placed for events, return phone calls, contact media when necessary, manage the website, update the blog - because I am retired and have the time. Most of the people work full-time. I think it's important to have those things done in a timely way. Some of you might remember how I reacted and the impression it left on me when my own email went unanswered for a long period of time. Not good. It doesn't show good faith - and this allows me to do something beyond complaining about it.

I made it clear to her that I am happy to do the work but don't care much about titles. It strikes me as rather odd to give people "titles" at a Buddhist wat, which is basically the same as a church. The idea of people behaving as though it is a corporate workplace is beyond my comprehension. During my two hours out there on Saturday afternoon, several people took me aside and told me about this one or that, why I should trust this one or that one ~ this one has a pure heart and that one doesn't.

I listened, even though it was a temptation to ignore all of it. I have an aversion to anything that smacks of group dynamics and competition within a group. Some of it may be valid enough and will explain certain things, like why one woman gave me stink eyes through the entire meeting. (In my opinion, it was purely racist since I was the only non-Asian in the place.) I'll do my best to try to avoid any kind of factionalizing because I honestly believe it has no place on holy ground. If I was Christian, I'd say it's like spitting in Christ's eye. The wat isn't a corporate workplace. It's a place for the practice of spirituality. That should be the one place we put all the ego crap aside and simply do the best we can to keep the place running well and that people are getting what they need.



flutter said...

I look at titles as purely a job description.

Facial disfigurements aren't usually something that register with me, unless they are severe. I don't know if it's medical training or the fact that I was a massage therapist for so long that I saw so many conditions that I became somewhat immune to it.

We all have our ugliness. Some of it internal, some of it external. Same goes for beauty

SUEB0B said...

I had a rather obvious facial scar for a long time and from that I learned how irritating it is when people are asking you all the time to explain what happened. So I don't ask now. If someone wants to offer, that is different.

And your wat philosophy sounds like a good general life philosophy.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

I've seen both church and synagogue politics, and sadly, the model for religious institutions in the U.S. does seem to be that many are run like corporations. I don't know if that's unique to our culture or to organizations in general. It's something I wonder about.

QT said...

I don't know, Chani. I think if I could tell it was something permanent -scars, port wine stains - I probably wouldn't ask. If it was bruising or scabs, I would probably ask out of concern - if I knew the person well enough.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I have seen people with obvious disfigurements shunned in public and my heart bleeds for them. Too often, it is not concern that causes others to ask questions, but curiosity, which is a luxury to which we are not entitled at another's expense.

Your observation that humans are drawn to beauty although the definitions may differ is accurate, as is the common aversion to the "damaged" among us in case it's contagious.

I have always objected to houses of worship being run like businesses, which is one of the reasons I do not subscribe to any form of organized religion.

Here is a true fairy tale I witnessed. I knew a handsome and charming man, a prosperous dentist, whose conventionally attractive wife regarded him as a super meal ticket.

When he finally had had enough, he divorced her and married a young woman whose entire face had been burned off in a car accident. It was a mass of scar tissue, yet the beauty of her spirit was so great that all who met her came away renewed in their faith that humans are capable of overcoming anything without losing their basic goodness and compassion for others.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

I agree that humans are drawn to beauty, but I also know that beauty is truly identified by the beholder.

As for titles, I’ve had several in my 60+ years but have always preferred to be known as “Nick.”

jen said...

titles help other people understand what you are trying to do. that is the best titles can offer i suppose.

i am sorry your face has taken such a beating. the fragility of it is overwhelming sometimes.

Los Angelista said...

Ouch! That sunburn was no joke.

My mother is in her sixties but still has horrible acne so I grew up with her always being self-conscious about her face. I wrote a story two years ago about a boy whose face is disfigured and while I was writing it I kept some of the experiences and insecurities my mom had in mind -- and her experience is nothing compared to those who have more serious disfigurements.

BTW, I love Heart's story about the doctor who left his wife. That's awesome.

Anonymous said...

What do you think when you see someone in public who has obvious facial disfigurement?

First, incredible compassion.
Second, incredible sadness.
Third, incredible reverence.
Fourth, incredible gratitude for I am aware at any moment this may be "my" dealt card someday, perhaps sooner than later.

My Mom made a point of telling my siblings and me from an early age not to stare or ask questions or judge folks appearing "different" and, as my Mom is an exceptionally non-judgmental, unconditionally accepting being, I trusted her wisdom. I still do. If anything, what bothers me are the legions of people who are not cognizant of the psychological, social and physical boundaries of others and their low scores on the awareness/empathy scales. It makes me all the more grateful for my Mom's perspective. And it makes my heart open even wider to respect the needs of the other that are different from my own.

Man, though, do I have some doosey stories I've heard over the years from those in the "deformed" category and how they cipe with bipedal mendacity.

And then there are folks like:

Read about him in an Anne Lamott book. He and his "Church of the 80%" are positively inspirational.


Defiantmuse said...

I usually wonder what happened when I see someone w/ facial disfigurement. And then I usually think about whether or not they have a partner who loves them in spite of it and then I feel guilty as hell because I'm not sure I'm the kind of person who could look past it because maybe I'm just too shallow. Yes, it's all about me, isn't it?

Ego is everywhere it seems. Even in wats.

velvet said...

I'd always been taught that one shouldn't judge by surface characteristics and shouldn't ask unless the person mentions it first. At one point in the past, I had an allergic reaction to some photo developing chemicals and the skin around my eyes was all puffy, scabby and oozing. Needless to say, people had a lot to say about that, not always very tactful, but I tried to convince myself that they were just being curious.

That's too bad about the wat politics. I would have imagined that it would be the one place where people could rise above these bad traits of human nature.

Julie Pippert said...

In general, if one removes the ego and strata from it---which usually is not the case---titles can be useful, like a roadmap.

I was PR committee and that was a guide to the other people, 'I need a press release sent to the paper for an event, let's see, PR oh here we go, that's Julie!'

I got a donation of toys, checked the list, saw the lady in charge, and forwarded it over to her.

But I see your point about pandering. :)

RE facial things---I look at it. I'm human. I do. I wonder about it. Then I look past it. I do my best to teach my children the same thing.

true story:

"Mommy, see that lady, what happened to her face?" yelled in that embarrassingly loud kid voice.

Woman winces. Her face looked like she was burned badly n a fire.

"It looks like she got burned in a fire," I said softly, then in a normal tone of voice, "Hey she's looking at picture frames like we are. I wonder what photos she has, and hey, she's coming off the other row, I wonder if she saw plate stands."

Then I said hello and asked her about the plate stands, well because I'm human and self-serving and all that LOL at me. (In case anyone cares, she had seen the stands and directed me to them, thank goodness, the kids were antsy.)

I just always try in my mind to humanize, if that makes any sense, and try to teach my kids the same. It might not be my first reaction but by gum it will be my last.

What else...oh right

I never understand people who feel a need to inflict their opinions, value judgments, etc about other people in a negative way like that.

Don't they get it's never absolute?

Here's hoping your health and skin heal soon.

Susan as herself said...

Oh my goodness as a fair skinned blonde I know EXACTLY what kind of burn you are talkijg about. Yikes. I had one like that once--not on my face, but almost everywhere else! Not fun, and I too felt nauseous and sick and exhausted anddrained until it healed. Good luck and take care of yourself.

Dandelion seeds said...

I know this is totally off topic but your story of people's reactions to you reminds me of when we first got our Keely dog-all emaciated with half her fur gone and her scrawny ribs sticking out all over the place. I got all sorts of stares and questions. Immediate judgement and assumptions, even if it ultimately came from a place of concern for her well being. interesting...the conclusions we jump to.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, I've had sun poisoning twice. It sucks.

I hav ebeen to a numbe of Buddhist retreats. I've loved them and got a lot from them, but I did notice that egos played a part. Ah, well, it may be inescapable.

Gillian said...

So far as I know, and I have read a few Buddhist texts, the Buddha never specified that you need be Asian to be a Buddhist.
Thank goodness! Stink eyes huh? Looks like someone needs to do a little work there. Ego? Yikes! I feel for you. It is easy to say ignore it, but it is hard to do, when the person is clearly trying to deplete your chi!!!
Facial disfigurement is a tough one. I always worry that if I look at a person, are they thinking that I am looking at their disfigurement? Or do they realize I am just looking at them?
I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Quite often I'll straight up address something (ask about it)...usually the person is keen to share because it gives them the opportunity to let you into their world.
Inside, we are all the same though. Just humans.

nick said...

I don't look away when I see someone with a disfigurement, that's as bad as staring. But I wonder what it is exactly and how it happened. Certainly I would see it as intrusive to ask direct questions, I would wait for them to explain if they wish to. Heart's story about the dentist says it all.

Angela said...

I usually wonder what happened, how they were disfigured, how they deal with it. I try very hard to not react and I'm sure I'm not very good at it, but I try anyway.

slouching mom said...

this one hits so close to home for me that i almost couldn't comment.

my mother survived cancer of the sinus cavity and has undergone fourteen surgeries to reconstruct her face (primarily her nose).

being with her in various phases of disfigurement was eye-opening for me, to say the least.

strangers on the street were unable to contain their disgust.

it broke my heart.

MsLittlePea said...

Facial disfigurement...I just act like I don't notice as I imagine people are sick of either being stared at or treated with too much sympathy.

I find nothing wrong with titles. They are just that- titles. Not crowns or billboards. It only becomes and ego thing if one allows their ego to turn it into one. I hate group politics though. Whether it's a church group or just friends. Oh I avoid it as much as I can.

painted maypole said...

you have a great view of what service to a place opf worship should be