Sunday, April 25, 2010

common sense vs etiquette

While grocery shopping I found myself in a frozen food aisle with other shoppers including a man in a wheelchair. I overheard the guy in the wheelchair rebuff at least two offers of help, with “I did not ask for help”.

As our shopping brought us adjacent, I observed him struggling to try and keep a door open with one arm, balance his basket on his lap with the other arm, and what … reach in with a third arm?

So I just reached over and held the door open. As his head pivoted in surprise, our eyes locked, and before he could say anything, I remarked, “I did not ask if you wanted help!” With a begrudging chuckle he reached in with his now freed arm retrieved his frozen foods and rolled away.

As an able bodied able minded person looking for rules of wheelchair or disability etiquette you may not even be looking in the same universe.

Each person facing loss of independence, or an adaptive life, or even just the probability of a dependent future is going to react differently.

Nor is transitioning to and from independence and dependence exclusive to disability or illness, try raising a teenager or young adult.

How many times entering or exiting a building have you simply held the door for someone behind you or someone struggling with their arms full? Did you ask them first if they needed help? I doubt it, likely you just did it because it made sense.

While I can urge you to try to see the person not the disability for all I know my fellow shopper could have started throwing frozen vegetables at me.

Sometimes you just have to risk common sense over any search for etiquette. 

Caregivingly Yours, Patrick Leer
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  1. I think you hit it on the nail, Patrick. It makes sense sometimes to do the things we do. Makes sense to me to allow the person behind me in line to go through first if he has 3 items and I have a cart full. Makes sense to help a short person reach something off the top shelf since I'm taller, etc. I do agree you handled the situation well. I think there is a fine balance between independence and stubbornness; we all need help with one thing or another regardless of our ability or disabilities


  2. You're right, Patrick. This can lead to some really stupid situations.

    I remember one time, pre-disability, I saw a blind woman in a very busy public restroom, obviously very tentative about finding her way out. I knew I should offer to help her, but I didn't know how to do it or what to say. I was such an idiot. What's the worst that could happen? She wouldn't want help, and would yell at me for offering? Pfft! Finally a person more socially ept than I offered to help her, and was gracefully accepted. Many years later, I still feel embarrassed and stupid about that.

    Now that I'm more likely to be on the receiving end of these encounters, I try to let this be a lesson. I can accept help, or I can refuse it, but I try to do it without being a jerk.

  3. Good advice, Patrick. I have to say that for me, the person now needing help, the lesson has been to embrace with gratitude the offered help and not see myself as less-than for needing that help. I have learned to think of it as an opportunity to make others feel good about themselves by letting them help someone else. Just one of many life lessons MS keeps offering me.

  4. MsMichel, thanks for visiting I took the liberty of adding your blog to my MS blog links.

  5. You said it best, Patrick: "Sometimes you just have to risk common sense over any search for etiquette." Thanks for sharing this with us!



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