Curiosity versus discretion

I went to my 25th college reunion last week (yes, Virginia, I’m old). I’ve hardly kept in touch with anyone, so as far as I know, only two other people at the reunion even knew that I now use a wheelchair.

I was afraid that no one would remember me, but that didn’t turn out to be the case (it’s good to have an unusual name). The strange thing was that exactly one person asked what had happened. Everyone else either ignored it completely (the majority), or treated me with this sort of strange kid-glove wide-eyed weirdness.

Are people really that restrained and polite? I would have been bursting with curiosity.



  1. Penny

    Yup. We get it all the time. It’s eerie, but at this point we make a game of it–how long will they be able to keep this “polite” thing up? We’ll show up at a church wheeling a kid in two leg casts, and still…. only the smiles. (Whereas in other places, other situations, it’s the first question we hear, even without the casts. Huh.)

  2. Susan

    Restrained? Polite? Naw…they’re scared to say ANYthing for fear of getting an answer they won’t know how to handle….and don’t want to get ‘stuck’ wondering what to say next….or ‘stuck’ having to ‘DO’ something.

    Okey dokey – so I am being somewhat sarcastic here – but – my once-new crutches evoked the same response – and -uh- still do. :D

  3. AL Masters

    Sounds par for the course. That is the reaction that most people have when they encounter someone with a disability. However, in certain settings, I expect restraint. I spent many years traveling in business and met many people that had no idea before-hand that I had a disability. For them to bring it up in a business setting would have been wrong. Just as it would be wrong to reference someone’s race, or gender. The average person is “PC” in most situations, including meeting someone with a disability. I suspect they feel the same rules apply as mentioned before about race and gender — it is off limits in a “PC” society.
    I think, sometimes, that it is me that wants the subject brought up because I feel it would drop a barrier. So, maybe it is me that should bring it up in the proper setting to see if anyone is intersted. Just a thought.

  4. Katja (Post author)

    I absolutely agree that questions about disability are inappropriate in a professional setting – but the very essence of a college reunion is “what the hell’s been going on with you for the last 25 years, huh?”

  5. Charles-A. Rovira

    I have to agree with Susan here. People are scared of the answer, any answer.

    It doesn’t matter what the problem is or might be.

    If you aren’t “perfect” they exclude you. (Unless they’re close relatives. Then they figure they’re stuck with you. :-)

  6. Patricia Tryon

    These days I think it’s hard for people to distinguish between professional and personal behavior. We’ve largely lost the situations in which personal etiquette comes into play: dinner parties, weekend house parties, and other gatherings that are purely social. So many events — charity functions, in particular, come to mind — involve people because of their work lives, such as the LUH “Evening to Remember” this past weekend. In such a setting, people behave with their “work” manners because that’s why they’re there. I wonder how many purely personal activities most people have engaged in during the past month. For many, I suspect that it’s work and family and not much more.


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