Deborah Hill Cone

Deborah Hill Cone is a Herald columnist

Deborah Hill Cone: Behaving badly may be sign you need help

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I was one of those insolent drivers recently outed for parking in disabled carparks. Photo / APN
I was one of those insolent drivers recently outed for parking in disabled carparks. Photo / APN

Achtung, well-turned-out 40-something blondes out there. I know a few of you.

I may even know that infamous Entitled Blondie who wouldn't give up her front row seat on an Air New Zealand plane for a disabled person in a wheelchair. I'm curious about you, lady.

Because quite scarily, I could have been you, maybe, at one time.

Non-blonde, but I've certainly had my moments being nonchalant about other people's special needs.

It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that I was one of those insolent drivers recently outed for parking in disabled carparks. (Full disclosure: I still use the disabled loos if I'm busting and no one seems to be needing them. Is that so bad?) Not that I tended to go around stealing crutches or pretending to be Ruprecht from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

But I didn't give a lot of weight to special treatment for disabled people.

I considered it a subset of the wet world-view dominated by feeling rather than thinking. Tedious shorthand: PC-gone mad. "Oh, you have to be a lesbian whale-saving one-armed Maori in a wheelchair ha ha." This sneering pose was all part of that uplifting doctrine of personal responsibility and self-reliance.

Pandering to people's disabilities was encouraging them to wallow in victimhood, I rationalised, rather feebly.

Wheelchair ramps and disabled rights were all laudable, as long as they were voluntarily provided, rather than demanded and enforced by bossy bureaucrats.

If this blithe attitude to the plight of the infirm made me seem like a mean cow, I lapped it up as a sign I was a bold stormtrooper in the noble struggle for the triumph of rationality over sentimentality.

Anyway, I shared Kingsley Amis's view if you can't annoy somebody, there's little point in writing.

There were some consolations to being hard-nosed.

To think you are doing people a favour by making them pull themselves up by their bootstraps, you have to believe they are capable of doing it.

Free will is a consoling balm for the conscience, especially if you find it excruciating to have to look at or feel other people's pain. One feels so annoyingly powerless in the face of others' suffering.

It's much more cheerful to take the position that unfortunate individuals should buck up and DO something about their predicament.

Then when they don't, you can feel contempt or pity for their weakness.

Until it happens to you, of course. Then you may see things quite differently.

The dazzling writer Christopher Hitchens declared, when strong and healthy, that his nominee for the most overrated virtue was compassion. (Second place: patience.)

Hitchens loved the imagery of struggle and saw himself as a fighter in the battle of ideas. But when he was going through cancer treatment he changed his tune: "The image of the ardent soldier is the last one that will occur to you. You will be swamped with passivity and impotence, dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water."

I imagine he appreciated compassion then.

I haven't been through chemo, but a few other life experiences have made me conclude the degree to which you can handle the pain of others depends on your own inner strength.

And this is not immediately apparent judging by outward signs of wealth or power or stroppiness.

The truly brave person may not be the mouthy contrarian after all, but the mousy individual who has the strength to bear witness to the harrowing experience of others without wanting to run off as fast as possible in the opposite direction.

If you can't bear your own emotional pain you find it terrifying to be confronted with someone else's.

Behaving badly towards those who are vulnerable might be a sign you are in the most need of help.

I wonder how Entitled Blondie is feeling today? Perhaps her life is not quite so "well turned out" as she might appear.

She could have her own reasons why someone sitting in her airline seat was too much to bear.

Maybe the most compassionate thing would be to extend to her the benefit of the doubt.

- NZ Herald

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