Yesterday I posted a little piece over at The Run of Play on the inexplicably lousy season Inter Milan is having. The analogy that struck me was that the team seems to have something like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: they’re not lazy, they’re not slacking off, but they seem somehow to be incapable of energetic and coherent action. I still think that that’s a good analogy, but I wondered if someone might be bothered by it, so I wrote to an acquaintance who has suffered for a long time with CFS. He replied that since it was obviously an analogy he had no problem with it, and added — he has significant hearing loss — that if I wanted to say “The referee turned a deaf ear to the team’s demands for a penalty” that would be okay also.
So I posted my thoughts, only to hear from three people who were deeply offended by it — genuinely hurt. So I asked Brian to take the post down, and he did. I mean, it’s just a little bagatelle about soccer, not something worth hurting people’s feelings about. I truly do not want to cause pain, and people who suffer from CFS do have the added fustration of dealing with skeptics who think “it’s all in their head.” I don’t want to add to that.
And yet, at the risk of undoing a good deed, I want to say that I’m not sure that I should have taken the post down; and I wouldn’t have done it if more significant issues had been at stake. When we write we want to be responsive to appropriate sensitivities, but people can be oversensitive, and to defer to those people is to hamstring public discourse.
There’s a time to say “I’m sorry” and a time to say “Get over yourself,” and it’s really hard to know, sometimes, which time it is. But when all we’re dealing with is a blog post about soccer, I think it’s probably better to err on the side of sensitivity. As I say, I neither wanted nor expected to hurt anyone’s feelings. But you can see, I hope, why this is a complicated situation.
And a little coda: one CFS sufferer — and I do indeed mean sufferer — quoted approvingly a person who had had both CFS and cancer and claimed that “cancer is a picnic compared to CFS.” Maybe this is just my own experience (as someone who has lost loved ones to agonizing death by cancer) speaking, but I don’t think that’s an argument people with CFS should make unless they want to eliminate every last shred of sympathy the public might have for them. CFS is a genuinely horrible thing to go through, but you don’t convince people of that by minimizing the effects of cancer, of all things.