This question has been on my mind a lot in recent weeks, and I’ve had some interesting social media conversations around it as well. I have issues around not inspiring in people the things that I need and want.
A fellow Pagan with ongoing health issues talked about how difficult it is if you don’t inspire care in others. It took me a long time, several tattoos and a birth to decide that I don’t have a low pain threshold – as I’d always been told – and that I may be experiencing a lot of pain. That I’m able to do a lot can make it hard for people to see what I can’t do, or how much it might cost me. When people are convinced that you are robust and healthybut you aren’t, they may also be convinced that you’re making a fuss or being lazy. That doesn’t inspire care or kindness.
I was asked why I felt the onus was on me to inspire in the first place. I recognise that this is all tied up with feeling that I need to earn a place – that warmth and care for example, are not things I should assume would come my way, but that they have to be earned. I’m better than I was at not assuming all of my relationships will be about utility, because a number of people have gone to some deliberate effort to demonstrate otherwise. But still, it casts a long shadow. I expect to have to earn things and the flip side of this is that if I don’t get what I need in a situation, I tend to assume it’s my fault for not having been good enough in the first place.
There are always interesting questions to ask about where we assume power to be centred. People who feel that they have earned and are responsible for every good thing that comes their way can miss the roles of luck and privilege. People who feel responsible for the things that go wrong can miss the influence of bad luck and other people being unkind or unhelpful. It’s not easy territory in which to strike a healthy balance. We can divide along lines of people who think they are responsible for everything, and people who feel responsible for nothing. Some of us only own our good fortune and feel anything that goes wrong is not of our making. Others of us do the reverse, feeling to blame for any problem and setback, but grateful or lucky in face of anything going well.
What do we inspire? What should we expect from others? How much is a response to me a measure of who I am as a person? When I’m trying to think about this dispassionately, ideas like ‘deserve’ seem largely absurd. Who gets what they truly deserve? Probably no one. Does everyone deserve kindness, respect and a chance to explain when things go wrong? I think so, except I’m not good at applying it to me.
For much of my life, I’ve had an array of issues around what my face and body do or do not inspire in other people. I’ve been bullied a lot over how I look. I’ve had how I look used as a justification for doing all kinds of horrible things to me. The accident of my face and bone structure, the accident of a stomach that just doesn’t develop decent muscles no matter how I try. The accident of a body that stores calories when stressed… things I have little control over that have dominated a number of important relationships.
Perhaps it’s not about what’s intrinsic to me. Perhaps the bigger issue is the way people read meanings into bodies and then refuse to consider anything else. I don’t have a delicate bone structure. That’s not a measure of my overall health and wellbeing. My body shape has a lot to do with how my body is, and is not a measure of a lack of virtue. Perhaps there are other stories to tell where I don’t have to feel entirely responsible for how people react to me.