PITY IS NOT FOR US
By Karl J. Krayer, Ph.D.
Reprinted with permission from BIND
Brain Injury Network of Dallas
I was a facilitator for the Men’s Group at BIND (Brain Injury Network of Dallas) on September 5. That meeting had a profound effect on me. We had a record nine participants to discuss this topic.
I could not get this out of my mind. As a result, I started to gather more comments, and publish these in this blog post for BIND.
This is the question we discussed that morning: “What do you think about other people who feel PITY because they know you have gone through a brain injury?”
Pity is defined as “the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others.” Or, “the feeling when you witness the misfortune or suffering of someone who is worse off than you. Pity is feeling bad for someone else, because they are in an unfortunate situation, or at least, in a situation that is worse than your own.”
What hit me was: “Is that what we want? Or, to feel pity for us?” I asked several members: “How do you react to this? What do you want people to feel and say instead?”
This reminded me about the Muscular Dystrophy campaign which lasted for years with Jerry Lewis. You may remember that there was an all-night annual Telethon to raise money for “his kids.” The show was live and produced nationally in Las Vegas and featured many stars in television and cinema. It was very successful until it moved its focus into pity. That is not what neither the sponsors nor the families and children wanted. The program fizzled out into obscurity.
You will find ample stories and case studies about brain injury. We do not need to repeat these. However, there is a clear difference in how each of us might think. If we think that we are helpless and are filled with regret and sorrow, we may seek pity. In those cases, we would want people to take care of us. What happens when we shift our thinking? In those cases, the goal turns to take care of one’s self.
So, what do we want instead? In our discussion it was clear that the participants want to be “real” about what happened to us. We do not want to sugar-coat our experience. We do not want to be talked to like children. We want facts to learn what the next steps in recovery will be.
Our members do not seek pity to raise any money for our recovery. What is more important is a stronger understanding of what happened to us. We want to know how we can help ourselves and others around us. We either want to prevent a repeat of the injury, or learn to cope with it. We want to move on. We are willing to work in a different way even if it is slower and painful. The last thing we want is to stand still.
Here are two comments I received:
“Being affected by my brain injury has been surprisingly positive for me. BIND, new friends, fun, happiness, and so on. Pity can be for others. Learning so much about the brain and how it works gives me a lot of pride – and understanding of others who also are affected by brain injuries. Thanks for asking!”
“I do not mind talking about my brain injury. But, if that is all we talk about, I lose interest quickly.”
To me, this positive attitude is great to maintain. Obviously, we have down days and have doubts about the nature of our recovery. But, the question becomes not only what happened to us. We do not surrender anything about our condition. We look where we are going next and how to accomplish that.
We do not need pity. Pity does not help anyone. We need help in other ways that are productive. Feeling sorry for us does not do that.