Don’t pity my disability; it’s not the same as being kind

As someone with an external disability, I’d like people to know there’s a line between kindness and pity.

It’s a realization I’ve come to after a lifetime of struggling with stuttering. Every single time my mouth opens, my disability is announced to the world.

I’ve heard it all: “spit it out,” “slow down,” “I can’t understand you.” Drive-thrus are a challenge. When I talk on the phone, people think I’m cutting out. On many occasions, I’ve had people assume I’m drunk or disabled in other ways.

These are just a few of the barriers I face every single day. I will continue to face them for the rest of my life. This is my reality.

But it’s not these barriers that get under my skin.

We all love to be shown kindness, but unless someone asks for pity, don’t give it. Pity makes us feel less than or not enough. – Shannon Flaman

I’m a smart, educated, ambitious woman, yet many people can’t see past my disability.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve never been bullied. It’s actually the opposite – I’m repeatedly pitied. At least once a day, I can see pity in the eyes of someone I interact with.

Take the gas attendant who’s used to five-second exchanges. For me, the “F” in “fill her up” is 20 seconds and the “R” in “regular” another 20 more. I can see his expression change from confusion to panic to pity. Still, he just rolls with it, fills my tank and sends me on my way.

The same can’t be said for a woman who insisted on praying (quite loudly) over my head to God. She prayed pretty darn hard that God should take away my speech disability and fix my tongue.

That situation was embarrassing and uncalled for. I didn’t ask for her pity, nor did I ask for her prayers to “fix” me.

Stuttering is the brain not connecting at the same pace as my tongue and lips. It also occurs because one side of my brain is stronger than the other. Do either of those sound like the end of the world? I think not.

I don’t pity myself and neither should you. We all have something “wrong” with us, whether it can be noticed by the naked eye or it’s hidden inside of us.

We all love to be shown kindness, but unless someone asks for pity, don’t give it. Pity makes us feel less than or not enough.

Over the past few years, social media has helped influence all of us to be kinder, to pay it forward. I love this movement and I think in general we are creating positive change with it.

So, the next time you encounter someone different than you, rather than giving them an eye of pity, give them a big ole fist bump. The more characters and harmless differences in our cast on Earth, the better.

This column is part of CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor’s blog and our FAQ.

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