On an email list I'm on, we have been talking about encounters we have with the public regarding dog guides. I don't talk about this often--I tend to capitulate to everyone else's feelings and assume that it is my responsibility to be nice and educate people about my dog, even when it is not so comfortable or convenient for me. The down side of this is that I don't really have the freedom to have a quiet conversation with a friend in a public place or sit somewhere and have a deep thought or an emotional moment in peace. These things get interrupted by people who want to know my dog's name but not mine. Sometimes even at church, I leave without people learning my name. As I an walking out the door, I will hear someone say, "Bye, Loretta." And I know that it is directed at the being at my side who cannot return the farewell with anything more than a wag of the tail. I wonder if the wag of the tail is equivalent to a spoken farewell. I wonder, when people say, "She must be your best friend," what they would say if I said that my best friend is a human--or that I have four "best friends" (one canine and three feline).
Today Alexis and I went to breakfast with a lady from church. And wow! I think we just about hit all the high points! As we were settling the dogs, a man came up and started doing the generic beautiful dog comments and asking questions. I gave him some generic answer and explained that we were trying to get the dogs settled and could he please avoid making eye contact with the dogs, who were making eye contact back and wriggling like there was no tomorrow.
He went away, the dogs settled down, and we started our conversation. A lady came up and said, "Excuse me..." We stopped our conversation, and she informed us that her church in the next town was having a blessing and healing of the animals... I said, "We already have a church. Thank you." This was not enough. She went on about how we might like to come. I said, "Actually, we have responsibilities at our church. She finally went away, and I joked to our church friend that perhaps I should take my mean cat to the blessing/healing and have them pray the aggressive streak out of her.
The best one was yet to come... At least this man waited for a break in the conversation and had something useful to talk to me about... However, I found some of his comments amusing. Our friend was conversing with Alexis, and the man took the opportunity to engage me from the next table. "Are those Seeing Eye dogs?" I said yes and braced myself for a third encounter within a 20-minute span. He then asked if I was legally blind. Just what should I say to that question? "No, they gave me a Seeing Eye dog because I am old/, smart, extra-privileged, a dog fancier? Ok... I answered him truthfully. He then told me that he works for the county elections division and asked if I vote? I started to wonder if he was running for some office and whether he thought he would get on my good side by talking about my dog.
Nope. He wanted to know whether I "demonstrate voting machines." Apparently we have accessible voting machines in this town. I have never seen one. My schedule is a bit crazy with theology books and papers; but if he wants me to be a guinea pig for an accessible voting machine, maybe I can work it in...
I did manage to finish my latte; and I did enjoy conversing with Sandra..
For most of my life, various people have felt quite free to correct my social skills--everything from addressing the manner in which I eat to pointing out that I have interrupted someone or imposed on someone else's time. I often wonder why such attention is not paid to the development of sighted people's social skills. It is stated blatantly in literature that sighted people learn social skills by observing. Perhaps this is true regarding some things; however, having worked with children of various ages and having spoken with professors at the seminary about social dynamics in various settings, my observation is that these assumptions are quite faulty. Much more attention needs to be given to the overall development of social skills of people--not only those with disabilities. It should not be abnormal that I feel upset when my meals and conversations are interrupted because strangers are curious about my personal life. After all, it would be considered rude for me to engage in the same behavior. Why is it necessary for me to excuse it from someone else when that same stranger would be perfectly within his/her right to correct me? It is necessary because forgiveness and politeness are preferable; but it is still not ok for people to do this to one another. At some point, someone needs to begin to educate people that this behavior is impolite. Otherwise, society degenerates into a free-for-all.