July 2, 2006

The Blame Game Revisited

Filed under: Observations — Mark Sanborn @ 2:06 pm

Recently an editorial in USA Today suggested “…if obesity were seen as a disability rather than gluttony, fat jokes would arguably be seen as hate speech.”Statements like that perplex me. I was an overweight kid and yes, other kids made fun of me. But they also made fun of smart kids, “dumb” kids, very short and really tall kids. Unfortunately, kids—and adults—can be mean spirited. (Our culture could use a large dose of compassion, but that is another blog…)

But does that mean society should re-label obesity as a disability? Would not that potentially qualify a violent temper as a disability? Bad driving skills? Chronic lateness to one’s place of work? While all of these can be influenced by circumstance and culture, they are first and foremost about behavior.

I’m risking censure by the political correctness squad, but I’d rather speak frankly than accommodate them. And “accommodation” is what this issue is all about.
If an individual or group chooses not to change behavior, the trend is to ask society to accommodate it. And frankly, society is having a tough time accommodating everybody these days.

Might obesity have a genetic link? Perhaps in some. But let’s stop blaming genetics when behavior is partly or completely responsible.

I saw a TV show about a 659 pound morbidly obese man. It was sad. When he entered a long-term care facility, he proclaimed he would “do whatever it takes” to lose weight and regain his health. When the dietician confronted him about his all-night binging on snack food, his response for the cameras was “I like to snack just like everybody else” (emphasis added).

Sorry, but not “everybody” who likes to snack consumes bags of potato chips and ding dongs throughout the night nor weighs 600+ pounds.

It is amazing how the human psyche can rationalize and deny to avoid responsibility. But it isn’t surprising.

Queen Latifah is supposedly doing a new TV show with the theme that it is good to be “big and beautiful.” (By the way, wouldn’t it be good to be “big and average looking”? Notice the shift in the phrase? The implication is that being big is beautiful.)

I’m not singling out and beating up on overweight people. This is just an example. The issue is about refusing to take responsibility for one’s behavior and asking others to accomodate you. Acceptance of another person, imperfect as we all are, is one thing. Demanding approval and accomodation is not, in my opinion, appropriate or healthy, for an individual or a society.

Compassion, acceptance and tolerance all confirm that it is fine to be who you are. But in the preceeding example, consider—and this will make the sensitive and in-denial angry—wouldn’t it be healthier to be approximately normal sized? Would any of the “big and beautiful” camp not want to be weight proportionate?

We all deal with personal challenges of some sort. I have a tendency to be irritable. Genetic predisposition? Maybe. Behavioral? Definitely.

I have a choice: continue to be irritable and annoy and alienate those around me, or make every effort to change. After all, negative behavior always has consequences, some deserved and some not.

What if I fail? What if, despite what I consider my best efforts, I’m still irritable? Contemporary solution: demand accommodation. After all, isn’t irritability a disability? I might even coin a phrase like “Irritable and Industrious!” Maybe I’ll start a TV show with a theme like “The prickly are people, too!” Or I could write an editorial that criticizes those who criticize the irritable.

Seems like that approach actually requires much more work than simply accepting responsibility for my behavior and doing whatever I need to do to change or improve it.

But hey! I figure I’m irritable…just like everybody else!

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