Monday, March 12, 2007

The "Poor Thing" Syndrome

It is no exaggeration to say that I rarely have the thought, "poor thing", in reference to a fellow human being. It is, I think, a descriptor that is (probably) oft and inappropriately applied to moi, by people who don't know me. If anyone who did know me did think of me as a "poor thing", I know that they would never tell me to my face -- not without risking injury.

So, it was with some surprise that I found myself applying this "poor thing" appellation to someone I saw a couple of weeks ago.

Setting the Scene

I was leaving work, still on Ivy West's campus, barrelling out of my building in my power wheelchair, on my way across campus to the train station. Where our building's path intersects with a more general path, I slowed to go around a pedestrian -- and thought, "poor thing".

I have since seen this woman again, which confirmed my thought that she is a fellow Ivy West employee, walking to her car at the end of the day. She and I are of an age -- somewhere between 50 and 60, at a wild ass guess.

She clearly was in discomfort, walking -- my guess is an arthritic hip or knee. Like I said, we're of an age.

But, I thought "poor thing" because she was moving slowly, clearly (to me) in pain. And I, more disabled by pretty much anyone's standards, was happily zipping along, not particularly in pain (I'm never completely discomfort free -- but who is?).

And then I thought,

I wonder if she is thinking the same thing -- i.e., "poor thing", about me.


Anonymous said...

excellently ironic blog post, to which the following comment is only tangentially related...

in general, the problem with "poor thing" is not just the pity in the modifier (i'm sure readers of this blog are well acquainted with the problematic nature of pity) but the noun itself. thing?? what kind of descriptor is that for a person? the whole phrase sucks.

Zephyr said...

Hey, I have arthritis, and I often think of myself as a poor little thing when I'm in pain. When you're in the grip of pain so strong and relentless that you're powerless against it, what else can you be? However, it isn't something I ascribe to myself every day. To relegate someone to being a poor thing and nothing else - highly ablist.

I think people often see PWD's as 'poor little thing' because we hold less power in society, and therefore life is more of a struggle for us. We need to work to change that, and so do the able-bodied. Almost everyone is either disabled or pre-disabled. Few will go to their graves with some sort of physical inpairment.

Zephyr said...

I've come to the conclusion that chronic pain sufferers ARE poor things. Even other gimps think we are! When I went to gimp camp in my youth, I couldn't get over how much sympathy I got from everyone. We're talking people in wheelchairs, people with canes and crutches, people with CP, whatever.

If someone I know is suffering pain, I view them as a poor thing. Like, when a friend's wife broke her hip, I was all like "Oh no, that's awful! Poor thing!"

However, I do prefer people get past that and see me as a powerful person in other aspects of my life.

Anonymous said...

I am not disabled, but I have worked with physically and mentally disabled for nearly 10 years now.

I often am the "poor thing", as I find myself lacking in the focus and effort to accomplish some things that I should. I watch those I care for put out 10 times the focus and effort to accomplish the same tasks I do daily and I often take for granted how little effort I need to use to accomplish those tasks.

If I could do put out even 1/2 the focus and effort on my projects, that they do every day, I would be a lot further along than I am on my personal ventures!

Anonymous said...

My link to my blog Jan's Group Home Support didn't work on the comment.

Sally said...

I feel huge compassion for the old people (really old, over 70 say, not just old over 50 like me) I see struggling along uncomfortable, probably in pain,at a snail's pace with their walking frame. Poor things ... their occupational therapists/friends/family/selves keep telling them "must not give up, you know".. oh how I wish they could have the joy and speed I have in my electric wheelchair.
Thanks for a great post making me think of it.