Almost 2 years ago, IBM moved David’s job to India, and didn’t invite him to go along. Like many too many experienced workers toward the top edge of professional competence, he’s been unable to replace the job that ended almost 3 years ago. He’s smart with a tremendous work ethic, but he’s 62. Maybe too smart? Or maybe too 62?
I don’t recall anyone being so blatant (or stupid) as to say things like, “You’re too old for the job.” Or, “You’re too female for the job.” Never, “You don’t have enough leg movement for the job (unless you’re going for a job as a bicycle messenger).” And they sure wouldn’t say that to Michael Douglas, who’s over 60 but blessed with good looks, and lots of money to buy continued good looks, even though he recently experienced the invisible disability of cancer.
Speaking for myself, I’m not free of the immediacy of judgment. Undoing built-in reactions requires the awareness only conscious thought brings. Sometimes, that’s more than who we can be on any given Sunday. Unless you’re Michael Douglas; he’s allowed.
I grew up an Air Force “brat”; my dad achieved a great deal and was well-regarded professionally. He was the NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge) of the Strategic Air Command’s underground control center during the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Our family didn’t see him for days. He was one of the Air Force’s first to achieve the newly created rank of Chief Master Sergeant. The military services have always been rank-conscious; there’s a built-in hierarchy that maintains the strict order necessary to conduct its business (it’s not the place, here, to go into the abuses of that hierarchy). In this context, my father, mother, and my sister and I, were lower on the totem pole than, say, a colonel. As a girl, I can remember playing dress-ups with a “friend” who told me I couldn’t wear her dress-up clothes because my father wasn’t an officer. To the extent that my mom’s already-low self-esteem bought into that construct, I can sometimes find myself lacking when comparing myself with others. Makes sense that those with lower self-esteem are more prejudiced; in other words, more hierarchical. When regarded from this perspective, having multiple sclerosis is ironic.
As appalled as most people might find this example, I believe us all to be people of rank. Humans, as part of the animal kingdom, use hierarchy all the time. Are we instinctively preserving the gene pool when we reject potential partners because of apparent “asymmetries” or disabilities? In this context, having an invisible disability is a good thing, or at least a delaying tactic. We’re all choosy; but which sex is more choosy when it comes to physical appearance? The theory of ““ (how far away features are from being symmetrical, a mark of attractiveness) provides an interesting conversation about that question. Is it base, animalistic, to want what we want in our partners? Do chimps choose intelligence over power. If the “best man wins”, describe him or her. Miss America? Mr. Universe? Symmetrical? Officer or enlisted? Able or dis-?
And where do we put a life partner who knowingly chooses (or sticks around) a partner with invisible disability? Maybe David, who married me knowing about my invisible disability, really is a higher form of being advanced beyond the petty prejudices of us humans.
Well, anyway, that’s what he tells me.