“Everywhere I go, somebody is staring at me, I don’t know if people are staring because they recognize me or because they think I’m a weirdo.” –Leonardo DiCaprio
On a visit to a local mall last Sunday, I found myself in a rather uncomfortable situation. For the past couple days, I had been nursing a strain to my left Achilles tendon. The lack of mobility made it difficult to walk properly and had to wrap it up but, unfortunately, the cable bill was due and I was forced out of the house.
Yes, the walking was uncomfortable but what made it even more awkward was the gawking and staring.
From the moment walking into the mall and going through the metal detector and security, it was obvious.
Slowly made my way down the stairs next to an older couple. The wife leaned forward to look around her husband, I turned after seeing her in my periphery, and watched her give me a once over and eventually staring directly at my wrapped up ankle. Ended up walking behind them and questioned what she was staring at and they just picked up the pace — in my condition, I wasn’t going to be running after anybody that day.
While it did bother me a bit, I reminded myself that it is a staring culture. Growing up in the west, it’s taught that staring is rude. Living here for just seven years now, it is quite apparent, that is not among the shared characteristics between the Philippines and the US.
Working my way up the floors, a female sales clerk, maybe around my age, was walking in my direction and her eyes were locked on my wrapped ankle. As she got closer — never once making eye contact — asked what she was looking at and she snapped her head forward and briskly walked by.
Getting to the office to pay the bill and finding out the pay service was offline, walked back towards the escalator and another person, similar to the earlier salesgirl, was gawking the exact same way; she also reacted the same way when questioned on what she wanted to know.
Stopping for lunch, visited an all-you-can-eat spot and, with every trip to the buffet counter, tables en masse would turn their heads and watch this guy limp across the restaurant.
In a way, it was shocking. I wouldn’t be mad at some kid who didn’t know any better about staring but these was city residents of all ages, walks of life, and social strata that appeared to have never seen anybody with some kind of impediment. What fantasy land of perfection are they living in? And, if I am going to put on my superficial hat, I wouldn’t say any of them had any right to live in a place where everybody is presumed to be perfect.
It was literally more uncomfortable that the pain emanating from my ankle and, most likely, made it even worse.
David Pogue penned a piece called “What Different-Looking People Would Like You to Know Before You Stare” for the New York Times last August. In the article, he talked to an array of individuals to discuss their reactions to staring.
He documented Cathy Theisen, who has a condition where her muscles pull her head to her left shoulder and her chin to the right.
“I don’t mind an occasional look but a stare or a double take is uncomfortable,” she wrote. “Why not meet my eye and smile, like you should when your path crosses another human being’s path?”
It wasn’t all rudeness and stupidity at the mall that day, there was one person, an older gentleman, who was walking behind me. Being completely aware of how slow I was walking, moved aside and allowed him to go first. He responded with a smile and a “Thank you,” which did offer a life preserver after drowning in so much ignorance.
Just as Theisen said: Treat others people like human beings.
He also spoke with Jen Kendall, a little person.
Her observations definitely struck a cord with what happened last Sunday.
“Seeing me and then sharply looking away as soon as we make eye contact is rude,” Kendall wrote. “Seeing me and then elbowing your neighbor is rude－I’m still a person, not an animal or freak to be gawked at.”
She concludes with a basic idea: “If you do make eye contact, just smile to let me know that you have no ill will and move on.”
NBC’s “Today” also featured an individual who regularly experiences staring.
Rena Rosen was born with craniofrontonasal syndrome, a genetic condition that can change the shape of one’s face.
She wrote: “Kindness is the one thing that bonds us all together and it’s so easy. It really makes a huge difference and it settles everyone’s nerves… Remember we’re all human beings and we all want to be treated with respect, kindness, and just live our lives.”
Online publication Bustle listed habits that “all creepy people have,” which included staring.
Writer Pamela J. Hobart explained: “Characters who watched a person before interacting were judged to be quite creepy indeed. This kind of staring may give people the impression that you’re sizing them up for nefarious purposes, which is pretty unsettling.”
The results came following a psychological study that found, “Creepiness seems to be a state of unpredictability that makes others feel threatened and they infer this unpredictability or threat on the basis of your appearance, behaviors, and lifestyle.”
What is driving all of those gawking eyes at mall? Ignorance or creepiness?
GMRC is DOA
Last week, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the Good Manners and Right Conduct Act, which will bring back lessons on “good manners and right conduct,” or GMRC, to schools. On the surface, it sounds like a good thing, especially with the ongoing push for “discipline.” However, nowadays, “discipline” is just a buzzword. People use the word and over and over again but with discipline continuing to be a lacking quality among the greater majority of the populace, the word is meaningless.
Sure, assume these GMRC lessons are taught day-in and day-out but, once that school bell rings and the kids head home, they’re watching jaywalkers make their way across every street in Bacolod City, even damaging or removing barriers to do so; people refusing to hold the door for others; public urination taking place at every other corner; trash piled up all over the place, sometimes directly next to trashcans; and their parents and grandparents staring and looking down on people that walk with a limp.
GMRC may have been effective in the past but it will not change today’s “modern” culture, especially when many of those old enough to have taken such curriculum have clearly abandoned those lessons.
There’s little chance GMRC amounts to anything beyond words on a chalkboard./WDJ