When I was 15 or 16 years old I had really, really bad acne. I think it’s fair to say that’s a tough age for everybody so I won’t whine too much, but one memory still stands out.
I was sitting on the bus headed to school one day when a ‘friend’ sat down near me. The bus wasn’t crowded so he wasn’t sitting in my seat, I remember, but he was in front of me or behind me. That’s important because I remember I didn’t have to look at him after he dropped his ignorance bomb on me. I can’t remember what prompted him but he looked at me and, without any other conversation, and only a moment’s hesitation, asked: “Why don’t you wash your face?”. Like I said, my acne was really bad.
I don’t remember what I said, or how bad it hurt, but I know that I learned something powerful at that moment. Actually, I learned two things. 1. Some people shouldn’t be allowed in public and, 2. Truth is stronger than teenage angst. The truth is, I washed my face 3 times a day with an iodine-based surgical scrub and a scrubbing pad that looked a little like steel wool. The truth is, I took 1 or 2 different oral medications daily and then coated my face with retin-A, all of which made my skin very sensitive to sunlight. The truth is, I saw a dermatologist regularly, every other week it seems, where, in addition to popping zits with one of those metal zit-poppers (anxiety-inducing picture included for those of you lucky enough to be unfamiliar), and checking my meds, he frequently injected something, cortisone I think, directly into some of the bigger, grosser zits.
I write this to you because I remember realizing at that moment that it didn’t occur to him that my acne might not be my ‘fault’. I suspected then that it would have made him too uncomfortable to think that something like that could have happened to him – so he had to believe I did something (or didn’t do something – like regularly bathe) to cause it. If you’ve ever been made fun of or bullied for something you can’t really help, you’ve experienced it too.
I’ve since learned that there’s a name for people who think that way. It’s called the ‘Just-World Fallacy’ and it’s described like this:
“Just-World Fallacy” – The idea that people need to believe one will get what one deserves so strongly that they will rationalize an inexplicable injustice by naming things the victim might have done to deserve it. Also known as blaming the victim.
It’s opposite is empathy, as in “I see what you’re going through and I’d bet money it sucks.”
So, in addition to a little pain at his insensitivity, I remember feeling a sense of empowerment. I probably couldn’t identify it at the time but I realized at some level that I was stronger than him. His fear was so strong that he couldn’t even allow himself to imagine being in my position. I, on the other hand, was powering through.
“Injustices” happen. Some people have acne, some have crooked teeth or different hair or a funny laugh or are short, or tall, or heavy, or skinny or have different color skin. In the end, they’re not injustices at all, they’re just our truths. Sadly, people will sometimes say mean things, make fun of you or bully you. If it helps, just realize that at some level what they’re really saying is “I don’t think I’m as strong as you”. So, What’s your Superpower?