Monday, April 2, 2012

Why do I feel differently to the same news from different people?

While walking towards the bus stop, I bumped into an old friend and colleague of mine. No sooner had I asked about her daughter, she said,   “ ABC is doing fine. She just got a diagnosis of ADHD, Giftedness and Dyslexia. The doctor started her on a medicine and she’s doing just great. She is now at the top of her class and no longer getting into fights with other kids”.
ABC is six and half years old and in first grade. My friend, her mother is a Caucasian Canadian, living in Toronto for several years, working in the mental health field and either has or does not have an undergrad degree.
Maybe because she told me all this in one breath and we parted within seconds after this brief talk, I did not feel much emotion. Before I could even feel any emotion in reaction to what she was saying, she had left. Processing it later, I realized that there was both good and bad news. ADHD & Dyslexia were the bad news but Giftedness and doing excellently after start of medication was good news.
I am wondering now if my reaction was different because she was a Caucasian or because she was so upbeat about this issue. I am trying to analyze my reaction to her because I reacted so differently when I heard similar news from someone else.
One of my relatives(…so he is Indian) told me that his child in his early teens has been diagnosed with dyslexia and reported to have above average intelligence. When I heard about the dyslexia, I felt so devastated and depressed. For some reason, I could not bear the thought of this child having dyslexia…I felt such a strong sense of hopelessness and helplessness. I had really no logical reason to feel this. This child is studying in USA, where the school is funding his special classes for treating dyslexia. He has above average intelligence, he is not having ADHD, he has a  highly educated father, he has absolutely no emotional or economic or any sort of problems at home or school. Yet I felt so overcome with emotion.
I am trying to understand why my reaction was so different. I am equally close to both my friend and my relative. I love both the kids and do not feel a greater love for one of the two. Yet, I did not feel so helpless and depressed when my friend told me of her child’s diagnosis. I felt very confident about her child and my friend’s abilities to deal with her dyslexia. When my relative told me of his child’s dyslexia, for a brief moment I felt so crushed and hopeless.
My analysis of myself:  I felt that sadness because I assume all middleclass Indians(at least urban, south Indians) are pinning  their hopes about their children’s future on their academic success and nothing else. If the child fails academically, then he or she is doomed. But I do not perceive Caucasians in this manner. I perceive them as resilient, versatile and they are the type who does not focus on academics to the exclusion of other areas.
Whether my perception is based on reality or based on a biased, erroneous judgemental thinking of mine, I do not know. But it is so difficult for me to ‘be cool’ when I see or hear about an Indian child having problems like this dyslexia; I have doubts about the Indian parents capacity to cope with a child getting diagnosed with something like this…a diagnosis which is  definitely not life threatening. Yet the parents feel so devastated. (Thankfully, my relative was not devastated and he is cheerful and pragmatic…I was the one who felt devastated!)
I hope I get to read the research about people’s reactions to bad news such as receiving a diagnosis and see what factors influence people’s acceptance, people’s reactions such as denial, anger, sadness, etc. I strongly believe that apart from personality factors such as resilience and coping styles, factors such as education, socio-economic status, family background, etc influence people’s acceptance of bad news.
Higher education level, higher socioeconomic status can make people accept certain bad news poorly compared to those with lower education, IQ, socio-economic status…because of the difference in expectation levels. Certain countries and cultures also have a more negative attitude and stigma towards issues. I have observed this in my work but as I have not systematically studied, I cannot really make any assertions.

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