25 February, 2012

I gave up smoking for Lent and in the middle of my drowsy, headachey Ash Wednesday morning it occurred to me to write about something I've noticed. Basically, some people are weird about smoking. I'm hesitant to write about this because I feel like someone will get offended, so please can you just read this in good faith.

I don't think people should be allowed to nonconsensually expose other people to secondhand smoke, so I am not interested in reading responses about how my argument is invalid because of secondhand smoke. I'm concerned about stuff like employers having a policy of not hiring smokers. If you want to relate it to benefits I can explain why it's not about that. It's also not about having a smoke-free workplace, since that's easy to maintain without not hiring smokers. Clearly, this kind of policy is about a group of people who do something unhealthy.

This subject is a bit close to my heart since I interviewed for my current job 2 weeks before they stopped hiring smokers, and also because I think smoking was a factor in losing my camp job. I didn't break any rules related to smoking, but my supervisors just had a different attitude toward me as a person.

I think it is weird that doing something unhealthy can turn a person into Bad News. When I read articles about places that don't hire smokers, they talk about it like good citizenship--not that they want healthy employees, but that they want employees who are "role models" and "set a good example." In addition to implying that smokers can be identified by sight when not smoking, this attitude equates goodness with striving to be physically healthy. Not that this is a new thing--observe fat hatred, or hatred of any disabled person who doesn't seem to be trying hard enough to not be disabled (i.e. all of us)--but I still think it's interesting.

Smoking is a sneaky subject because it can be categorized as a choice. But it is kind of an illness even if it's a chosen one. If people are addicted, that is an illness. If it's not an addiction, it still results in physical weakness and accelerated death. So I think smoking is cool because it shows you how people feel about sickness without those feelings being camouflaged by the propriety and pity they feel required to maintain when the person "hasn't chosen to be sick."

In American Horror Story, a bully beats up the main character Violet because the girl's grandmother died of lung cancer and Violet was smoking in a public place. I love this scene because I had a less Ryan Murphy version of the same experience. No violence I mean. But I had the sense that someone hated me because someone they loved died from what I was doing.

How does the construction of smokers as "our" enemies make sense? Because we might start liking them and then they might die? Because our grandmother died and we kind of want to beat her up for "bringing it on herself," but we can't because we love her and she's dead, so instead we will treat other people like her in ways we would never have wanted her to be treated?

If someone is to blame for the death of a smoker, and you don't want to blame the individual smoker or settle down to blaming no one, why don't you just blame tobacco companies for making cigarettes delicious and awesome? In theory people who hate smoking would probably say they do blame tobacco companies, but they don't really walk the walk. If smokers are the sheep/pawns of tobacco companies, why should we be denied jobs for something they did to us?

(I don't have anything against tobacco companies but I do think they're the only logical villain if you want to consider smokers victims or feel sorry for us.)

I feel like it's perverse not to care if you live a long time. Well, actually some dangerous things like driving are okay, but there are certain ways of shortening your life that are wrong. Smoking is wrong because it's like smacking God in the face, except atheists are just as offended. I don't know that it's not a more hostile version of the gooey/horrified reactions people have to quicker forms of self-injury. Do we really need ribbons and bracelets to draw attention to the fact that people put sharp stuff inside themselves and It's Serious?

I was going to say something about nonsmokers who have group discussions where they pat each other on the back for not liking the smell of smoke and thinking that people who smoke are dumb (outside of these conversations, some of the same people are totally happy to be around smoke) but this tangent is pulling on me. I feel like conventional self-injury is a bad sign and a bad solution, for me, but I think it is weird that a lot of people would want to gasp and call me a "cutter" (designating me as having a condition that puts me in a whole other class of people, a whole new noun) but wouldn't gasp about me ignoring mental or physical health problems, or not getting enough sleep, which can cause way more permanent damage than just palling around with tape dispensers/soup cans.

But anyway smoking? Probably one of the grosser things in the world but it still bothers me that I feel like it's become kind of this symbol/scapegoat of people who are ill/bad/ill-because-they're-bad. We're like an anthropomorphization of death you can yell at.

Note: I'm not interested in hearing about how you feel when you're around people who are smoking right now or have just been smoking. This post is about attitudes toward smokers that persist even when we currently aren't smoking and/or don't smell like smoke.

07 February, 2012

This is just something I've noticed in a few environments. I work in a nursing home right now but I think it also applies to staff who work with people with DDs*. The idea is that if a "client" or other euphemism is rude to you, you can be rude back to them.

Sarah: I don't like you!
Aide: Well, I don't like you either. (turning to other person) Look how obnoxious Sarah is!

Okay, let's take a minute because this is really weird! First of all, the experience of having someone who openly dislikes you come into the place where you live and take care of your personal care stuff has got to be depressing. I can't help but think it just might make someone LESS LIKABLE. It also sounds scary, no matter how principled the aide is about not letting their opinions affect their work.

My personal feelings aside though, this just has nothing in common with how service people act in, like, every other type of job. If you were cashiering and a guy was yelling at you for ringing things up slowly, you would apologize. If you were cutting someone's hair and they started bitching, you would go along with it. It doesn't matter that they're being rude, YOU WORK FOR THEM.

I guess some people would say this is because unlike long-term euphemisms, this kind of customer can take their money away from you at any time. But I don't really think this is the whole thing. Bus drivers are pretty nice and I'm not exactly going to go buy a car if they piss me off. When I worked at my college dining hall I would have gotten in trouble if I'd been rude to someone who was eating there, but they were going to eat there anyway.

Really I think the whole business is more simple. When you are being paid to do things for other people, you put yourself out, because you are working. If you did whatever you felt like it wouldn't be a job. It would be doing something nice for someone because you wanted to.

Probably a lot of people in service jobs like doing nice things for people, and that's part of the reason they chose the job they did. But I think some people who do support work never really separate doing their job from doing something for someone else in real life. They don't do bad work--they really care, and they have good relationships with the long-term euphemisms who meet them halfway. But if someone doesn't meet them halfway, no professional code snaps into place, no "the customer is always right"--there is just this person you have to take care of, just like if you had to take care of your grandma and she was mean. But it's not the same thing! You work for them!

I just think this is creepy because I would be creeped out if I was the long-term euphemism everyone hated and kind of glared at while putting my clothes on and giving me a shower. But it's also just not professional. Sometimes I think it happens because, without really acknowledging it, we recognize that this class of clients can do less to punish us if we piss them off. I don't think this is as consciously selfish as I'm making it sound, but that's one of the things that makes it scary.

*(Actually I think there's an extra thing when it comes to DDs, because staff sometimes have a feeling even if they're working with an adult they are supposed to be shaping/improving the person's behavior in the way they would with a kid. So it's not even that they're being rude in response to rudeness, it's that they actually think doing their job well includes telling a person to say please or think about how the things they ask for affect their staff person.)