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Reactions, Cultures, and Acceptance of Differences in Crisis

by Aleasa Word, FAACT’s Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

September 2023

Families in the food allergy community often find comfort in online groups. There are usually some differences, like the types of allergies managed, family structures, economic factors, or areas of the country we live in. We may even worship different faiths or none at all. In most cases, there is a mix of ethnicities.

These differences can often be ignored as we seek out a recipe free of the top allergens or epinephrine auto-injector carrying cases that won’t make our child stand out. After all, we are on common ground fighting the same fight—food allergies and anaphylaxis. Right?

It’s like the best kumbaya moment one could ask for when we rally together to find a place of harmony. Unfortunately, it does not always stay that way.

People in our families and communities may be sympathetic toward our journeys even though they don’t fully understand what we experience. Guilt, fear, anger, loss of confidence, and more rage through our minds after a close call or an anaphylactic reaction. We find the best way to cope that we can within our day-to-day lives and those moments of crisis. And then it happens. Someone in the group criticizes how someone handled something. These criticisms may happen directly, indirectly, or even in private chats, but they do happen. When I see these little remarks, it hurts my heart. They add no value. In fact, they take away from the value we all work so hard to build in our online or in-person communities. They create shame and even more fear for others who think, “Would people talk about me like this if I was in that person’s shoes?”

Here comes the opportunity to talk about diversity. More specifically, the idea of diversity of thought. Of course, we want people to work with medical professionals to ensure healthy and safe outcomes. Yet once someone is stable or after a close call, people cope differently. Some see our virtual communities as real friends who “get it” in a world we still fight to be a part of every day. They may need to manage their anxiety by putting it out into the atmosphere online. Should they be bashed for it? No! Do we want to maintain some privacy from a HIPPA or even dignity standpoint? Yes. With that said, we all don’t have the same coping styles. Some people need to decompress in a world full of online connections because real-world connections don’t always understand.

So next time you see someone in a group coping or managing allergies differently from the way you do, ask yourself these questions before you respond:

  1. Is this really my battle?
  2. Will what I have to say cause the flames to grow or extinguish the burn of the situation?
  3. Am I projecting my own fears in this moment?
  4. Is it possible this person’s cultural dynamic is to share differently than mine?
  5. What am I hoping to gain or what do I have to lose by getting involved in an online dispute or opinion battle?
  6. Do I know this person’s intentions or headspace to gauge how they will receive my comment?
  7. What helpful comments or support can I offer without judgement?

We are all doing the best we can. And yes, it’s good to help others see different perspectives. But ask yourself if it is up to you to be the one to do that. Managing food allergies can be quite the load to carry. Let’s spend more time lifting each other up. When you see someone who handles things differently than you, give the same grace you would want for yourself. These things help to make us better people in a very challenging world. Positive behaviors also set us apart. Our community is as loving as it is intelligent, and we can always work together to do better.

And don’t forget, September 15 is the start of Hispanic Heritage Month. Celebrations take place all over the United States to commemorate the amazing achievements of Hispanic Americans. The origin of this celebration can be traced back to 1968, when President Lyndon Johnson recognized Hispanic Heritage Week. This evolved into Hispanic Heritage Month in 1988 under President Ronald Reagan. Learn more here.