I’ve previously written about the “Concerned Citizen” who frequently tries to assist people with disabilities in the street, on the train and in the station; another frequently encountered person is what I like to call “the Proud Observer.” This is the person that will be in the background watching a crowd, generally at a club or bar, but could also be in a restaurant, coffee shop or grocery store. They stand by silently until they spot a person with a disability, then their heart swells and vision is temporarily obscured by a misting of tears (of which only a single one will roll down the right cheek).
If only they would stay perched on the wall and ignore the poor innocent (usually me) that has come into the establishment to enjoy an evening out. Alas, that is never the case. The person will approach tentatively (lest they spook me and I run off into the distance like a deer) and then put a hand on my forearm or shoulder and say something from the repertoire of the Proud Observer “I think it’s so brave of you to come out” or “You are making such a statement by coming here” or “I’m so proud of you for showing up!” maybe even “you are such an inspiration.” There are many others, but these seem to be the most frequent.
The Proud Observer is also a wellspring of information. They will tell you, within the first three minutes of “conversation” 2-3 resources where you can get fixed. They often have a friend that works with your disability or has a friend with your disability that has overcome it. If you don’t break away from them fast enough you also get an unfortunate form of peer support. They will look you up and down and come up with an experience that gives them an empathetic insight into your “condition.”
Proud Observer: “Oh my god! You’re blind? This one time I poked myself in the eye, so I feel your pain!”
Proud Observer: “So, what’s wrong with you?”
Innocent Patron: “I have cerebral palsy.”
Proud Observer: “Oh, wow! I stubbed my toe a few years ago and limped around for a few days so I understand your struggle.”
There’s really no way of getting rid of the Proud Observer without them turning bitter, but if you don’t disillusion them they will attach to you like a leech (a leech that can announce to all around that you are a brave, powerful soul and they shouldn’t judge you). If they are deflected sometimes they will use a tactic from their wily bag of tricks: it might be an apology for a previous encounter, an apology for a snub from another patron or it could be them coming to your defense after hearing something snide said about you. Often these are made up and are ways of trying to get back into your good graces. Don’t be fooled, be vigilant and make an escape from them as quickly as possible.
Do you have any similar experiences with Proud Observer you would like to share?