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Home » Blog » An inconvenient truth? (Or how to Gaslight the Light-Sensitive)
A few weeks ago I went for a walk at the Hermitage of Braid, a nature reserve in a small steep glen near Morningside in Edinburgh. I was walking along the path when a young border terrier bounded up to me and started jumping up at me excitedly, leaving muddy paw prints on my light-blue trousers.
I heard a man’s voice shout ‘Come here Benji’.
Benji (for it was he) continued to jump up at me.
A loud ‘Come here Benji’ elicited no response. This command was repeated at first assertively, then imploringly as Benji cheerfully ignored all appeals to desist.
As he caught up to me, he said apologetically, “I’m afraid Benji is being very wilful today”.
I thought, ‘it’s not Benji, you just haven’t trained him’. Surveying my filthy trousers, I said “I’m allergic to dogs, you should keep yours under control”.
He looked stricken. ‘I’m really sorry’, he said, hooking a disappointed Benji onto his lead.
(I didn’t say this to make him feel bad – I do react badly to dogs. They affect my eyes and aggravate my asthma. Alas, avoiding dogs has turned me into a powerful dog magnet. Any dog entering a room full of people seeks me out like a seagull after a dropped chip.)
As I walked on, the incident got me thinking – why did a total stranger so obviously believe me and take seriously my dog allergy, but people who are light sensitive are not believed? After all, both health effects are caused by an external agent.
Perhaps it’s my natural gravitas, I wondered? Hmm. My ego tended to agree, but my common sense laughed derisively. Or maybe it’s because I’m an educated older male (as was he).
More seriously, why are light sensitive people treated with such scepticism? Those I know are intelligent, articulate lawyers, doctors, social workers and journalists. If they are being ignored what hope is there for progress?
Perhaps it is because allergies are a common, well-known condition while LEDs making people unwell is less well-known, even by GPs – or maybe it’s because most sufferers are women and women’s symptoms are sometimes ignored by male GPs?
I also find that many people become defensive and unwilling to listen when I explain how LEDs make some people ill. The logic of their thought process seems to go:
LEDs are low energy and help to save the planet from global warming
So how could they possibly harm people? 1
I’m fine with them, perhaps these people just dislike LEDs
or have some ulterior motive for ‘being difficult’
maybe they are climate change deniers
or just plain weird
It can’t be true.
This type of thought process is known as cognitive dissonance and unfortunately, I’ve found plenty of evidence of this, even when it isn’t articulated in that way. Commonly, people ask: Are you sure it’s the light?
How can light make people ill? What is the mechanism?
Couldn’t it just be (insert one of several reasons here)
Maybe it’s all in their minds – perhaps they are depressed or something.
The outcome is that people with significant well documented health problems are socially excluded by the ubiquitous installation of LED lighting – from council buildings, NHS premises, education, shops, supermarkets, places of worship, libraries, swimming pools, chip shops and tea rooms.
Sadly, disbelieving people has a long, depressing track record – abuse in children’s homes, the grooming of young women – the list goes on. Disbelief becomes an excuse for inaction in the face of suffering.
Each of us has a claim to be treated with dignity and dignity demands a mutuality of respect. We have a claim to our own self-worth by the very humanity we share with one another. Disbelieving what light-sensitive people say about their condition denies their humanity.
A just society is one that respects, protects, and promotes the inherent dignity of each and every member. Whatever affects one person directly will affect us all indirectly. It becomes damaging to all if we exclude members of society simply because they have an ‘inconvenient’ reaction to LED lighting.
PS – I now go for walks on the beach. Dogs there have cleaner paws and sand is easier to brush off your trousers.
1 Cognitive dissonance. When two actions or ideas are not psychologically consistent with each other, people do all in their power to change them until they become consistent. The discomfort is triggered when a person’s belief (LEDs are a good thing) clashes with new information (LEDs make some people ill). The individual tries to find a way to resolve the contradiction to reduce their dissonance. People selectively ignore or downplay information that conflicts with their existing beliefs (known as confirmation bias), or downplay the importance of the health concerns or attribute them to other factors. Unfortunately, for light-sensitive people, cognitive dissonance is challenging to overcome, as it requires a willingness to acknowledge and examine conflicting information objectively. Recognising and addressing cognitive dissonance can lead to a more balanced and informed understanding of complex issues.
Blogs are written by LightAware supporters in a personal capacity
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