‘Dry your eyes, Princess’.
That was a comment left by a former colleague from my time in the army after I posted an unguarded comment on Facebook. I was under the influence of my medication and wrote something about the irony of the fact that the drugs I was taking to cope with my pain were slowly killing me. Was it a cruel comment? Was it deserved or was it just his ignorance?
I don’t really like revealing personal facets of my life, especially now. The fact that I logged onto Facebook and made such a comment, whilst drugged, annoyed me enough to removed my so-called ‘friend’ and close my Facebook account. I was also hurt by his comment, ‘dry your eyes, Princess’. This was a person who I had known for over 20 years, worked with a number of times and thought shared a mutual respect for each other. I guess I was wrong.
Stu, the person who told me to dry my eyes, is doing fairly well in the private sector and has even appeared on television as an expert in some news articles. Although we served in the same branch of the British Army, his expertise was photographic interpretation whereas mine lay elsewhere. When we did serve together, we got on well enough although we have never been ‘good’ friends. I, on the other hand, have had better decades as I am sure you all know well enough by now.
Back to the question at hand, was his comment cruel?
When I read it, it hurt and I thought it cruel but the more I thought about it, the less sure I became. You have to understand that we both served a long time in an institution that had no time for weakness. The army is tough, physically and mentally. Weakness is a liability that isn’t accepted or tolerated. When I think back to my time in the army, I can recall making similar statements to individuals whom I thought were weak or malingering. Was I cruel too?
Context is key. In normal society it would be considered cruel bordering on bullying; something that our society does not tolerate. In the army, yes, it could still be considered bullying but it is more acceptable and, in a way, expected. As a commander of men and women, you need them to be strong, reliable and a cohesive unit. You need to maintain moral and weakness is considered a liability, something you have to either rectify or remove. The easiest way is to shame the ‘weak’ individual into sorting themselves out.
My comment on Facebook would have appeared as me being weak. In fact, I was. I was complaining instead of ‘cracking on’ and making the best of a bad situation and, more importantly, not complaining about it. In the army my comment would have been viewed as subversive and not conducive to the cohesion of the unit. As a result, direct action would be needed. Stu did as anyone with his background would have done and tried to end it quickly. As, indeed, I would have done.
Ignorance of a disability doesn’t justify persecution. Maybe we had our own, albeit, misguided justification in the military but not now. Stu’s ignorance does not justify his comment but he isn’t the only person in our society who’s ignorance has affected how those with disabilities are treated. Society has a long way to go and it won’t be easy because how can you understand such profound disabilities if you have never experienced it?
So, was he being cruel? The answer is a non-conclusive yes and no. Sorry.