"Don't stare!" I can remember being admonished with this warning anytime that I saw someone who had a physical or mental challenge. I can vividly recall quickly averting my eyes in case I might cause embarrassment to someone if my eyes lingered too long.
I realized one day that I had totally forgotten to program my daughter with this same information. The man who was putting the flooring in our house did not have his right arm and had a hook in its place. With the curiosity of a six old, Casey asked, "Well, Mr. Harden, what happened to your arm?" I imploded internally with the realization that I had failed in one of the chief duties given to Moms: Teach your children not to stare.
Ken Harden explained to Casey that he had a disease in his right hand when he was in high school and that the doctors cut off his arm to save his life. He went on further to demonstrate how his hook worked. Casey was fascinated, and I had to admit, so was I.
I later told Ken that this story had worked its way into my training classes and that he has achieved a degree of fame. He told me that children were never put off by his hook, but adults were rarely comfortable talking about it. He said that they acted like he must wake up every day with the discovery, "Oh, my gosh, my arm is gone!"
I use this story in a class where we talk about how the "don't stare" message was programmed into most of us. One class stands out as one in which I was taught a great lesson by one of the participants. A nurse who was in my class said that she worked with burn patients whose faces had been disfigured. She said that the thing they commented that they missed the most was that people refused to make eye contact with them. She said they said they felt as if they disappeared.
When reflecting on this this, I came to realize that with "Eye Contact" you grant humanity and value to others. The "Don't Stare" message seems kind on the surface but in reality, hurts. I then came to understand that "Eye Contact" leads to "I Contact" i.e., "I make Contact with you because you matter, you are a child of God, and you have value." Amen.