Saturday, March 13, 2010

Everyone is different

I was reminded today that support groups or boards are not homogeneous. Yes, they have a mix of people bound together by the purpose of the group, and so each member has at least one thing in common with everyone else. But having that one thing in common doesn't necessarily mean that people in the group share other interests, activities, or points of view.

Take breast cancer, for example. Breast cancer doesn't just affect people like me (however you define me). It affects people of all upbringings, backgrounds, income, martial status, and geography. People's emotional response to breast cancer and its tests and scans and whatnot is also different, as is the way they deal with that response. Some stay emotionally even, while others become very anxious or afraid. Some will deal with the emotions by being sarcastic, or funny, or angry, or nit-picky, or whatever.

In some ways, it's a wonder that people in breast cancer support groups actually get any support at all. All it takes is two people who are worried about something and who deal with those worries in different ways for things to explode. The explosion is much bigger if those people are strong, with lots of friends, and if they dislike each other. At that point the explosion spills over into other arenas like Facebook.

And this is what happened today on one of the breast cancer support boards I belong to. Someone posted about something she was worried about and tried to make light of it, which pushed another person's buttons, and the fight was on. It spilled over onto a third person's Facebook status, which became filled with some pretty nasty comments and negativity.

Even though I understand the mechanisms behind all of these events, I felt like I was in junior high school watching the girl bullies do the bitchy, mean, nasty things to other people. And suddenly, instead of seeing the commonalities between me and people on that board, I was made very aware of how different we are. I felt and still feel very uncomfortable around many of them.

Differences make us unique, but without a common bond between its members, support groups or boards are useless. I'd never want to fill a support board with only one type of person with one type of background. We learn as much or more from someone who is unlike us than from someone like ourselves. But if we focus on how different we are from another person, we can't make enough of a connection to them to see that there is something worth learning from them. If only everyone on this board saw this, things would be easier there.

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