For most of my life, I have had a revulsion reaction to people whose bodies are deformed, or whose behaviors are offensive in public. I believe this revulsion is probably hard-wired into human beings from prehistory, as a survival characteristic (others whose looks or behaviors are not “civilized” might be foes); so I’m betting that I’m not alone in feeling this kind of revulsion.
When I was a psychology graduate student, one of the things I learned in my human-behavior studies was that if you want to change a feeling, change behavior first. So, if you wanted, say, to feel more accepting of people in a different ethnic group, you would attempt to meet people in the group and get to know them. After a period of time interacting with people you might normally not like or approve of, your feelings would change, and you would discover that they are likable. (and you’d get new friends into the bargain)
I decided to put this learning to practical use in conquering my revulsion. There is a Costco store close to my home, and I go there often to shop. Costco has “door monitors” at the entrance to every store, to greet customers, check that they are members, and count how many people come through the door (customer-count). One of my local store’s door monitors is a man who I think has cerebral palsy, or a similar congenital defect. His body is twisted in abnormal ways, his teeth stick out, and he needs a walker with a seat so he can man the door. I noticed that he seemed to be a pretty congenial sort of guy, and always has a smile on his face. So I decided to approach him. I made a point to say hello and smile when I went into the store, and greeted him every time. I would stop for a moment and ask how he was, and he liked that. And on January 2, I stepped over and gave him a big hug and said “Happy New Year”. To my delight, he grinned and laughed, and I think I made his day. And his reaction made my day too.
In conquering my revulsion, I also engaged in some thinking exercises, reminding myself that a deformed body may be just that, and contain a find mind inside. I thought of examples, like Stephen Hawking, the famous physicist whose body is misshapen by ALS, but who continues to produce physics teachings.
So I’m conquering my physical revulsion, and I gain maybe not a friend, but someone who actually looks forward to the times when I go shopping at Costco. I make a point of stopping by every time, and giving him a hearty greeting. And I thank Costco for employing someone who perhaps would have trouble finding work. He gets gainful employment, and Costco customers get a friendly greeting when they go in. I find now that I look forward to seeing him when I go there. See how behavior can change feelings? Do the behavior, and the feelings will follow.