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Today I had a rather larger sty on my lower eyelid, big enough that you could unmistakably see it within a couple of metres. I also had a meeting with my lecturer, that I needed to go to in order to ask some questions about an assignment.

On the trip there and back I wore sunglasses, so that other people wouldn't have to look at it, and so I wouldn't be stared at. But I felt that during the meeting it would be rude to wear sunglasses, as it was indoors and pretty close and personal, so I didn't wear them there.

Knowing that the other students and he would have to stare at it and just try and ignore it made me pretty uncomfortable, so I was wondering if:

  1. there's any accepted responses for this, or
  2. whether there was anything I could've done to alleviate my or their discomfort.
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    was it a one-to-one meeting or were there other students in it? Aug 29, 2017 at 12:00
  • There were other students, but none that I had met. It was more to ask the lecturer some questions. but we were around a table asking them individually. Aug 29, 2017 at 12:02

1 Answer 1

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Medical conditions allow you to break any number of social conventions and rules of etiquette. There is another question on this site about someone with a hand tremor eating with their hands rather than a fork and knife, to give one example. Many of our rules of behaviour come from a time and social class where you would hide away any medical conditions so as not to disturb anyone else's delicate sensibilities. In case of a temporary illness you would hide away at home until socialising was possible again, and people with permanent disabilities were often hidden away from society entirely. In our modern days, this is fortunately not the case anymore. So we need to allow for modifications of etiquette that allow everyone to participate in society. It's hardly reasonable to expect you to hide at home until your eye has healed, not any more than we place children with Down's syndrome in institutions and pretend they don't exist. Instead, we modify the rules of etiquette to make it possible to interact with people regardless of (permanent or temporary) disabilities and illnesses.

It is normally polite to remove sunglasses when you are indoors or speaking to someone. This is because in large parts of the world, and especially the west, we value eye contact when interacting. So following the 'normal' rules you acted correctly when removing your sunglasses for the meeting. However, since you have a temporary medical condition, you could have broken the normal rules. If it would make you more comfortable, you can wear tinted glasses for the meeting. When saying hi you could add a brief comment along the lines of "I have an eye problem, so I'll be keeping these on for the meeting" while gesturing to your sunglasses. This is no different than say someone who is blind bringing a seeing eye dog or someone with an injured hand not shaking hands. You are breaking the established social norms, be they not wearing sunglasses indoors, not bringing dogs to meetings, or shaking hands at the start of a meeting to make the social situation manageable for you right now, and that is perfectly acceptable. My most recent such situation was asking my advisor to come to my office instead of me going to his because I had an injured ankle. Normally I go to his as is customary since he is my 'boss'. However, an injury allows for a modification of the custom.

Note that you are not obliged to hide your eye if you don't want to. If it doesn't bother you then just go to the meeting as you are. Part of living in our more open society is that sometimes people have injuries, scars, or other medical conditions that may be uncomfortable to see. We have decided that everyone should get to participate in society, so we just deal with it.

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