Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How to Obey the Golden Rule: Illness Unit

Since mortality is endemic and serious sickness commonly precedes death, we think that everyone ought to listen to what seriously sick people and formerly seriously sick people say about what they need from other people when they're seriously sick. So this little article in Sunday's Gray Lady is required reading for humans who think that doing to others what you'd want them to do to you is the way to go. Cancer survivor and journalist Bruce Feiler lists dumb things that people say and helpful things that they say and especially do (summary on that point: just take up some practical task without asking what needs to be done).

So why do healthy human say so many stupid things to sick humans? The SWNIDish view is that we have an underdeveloped capacity for empathy because in our efforts to do right, we keep thinking about ourselves instead of the people we are supposed to be loving. Our interior question is, "How can I do the right thing?" instead of "What would it be like to be that person, and what would that person need from someone like me?" The first question is not bad, but the second is more direct, and more in keeping with that important story about the God who becomes human and lets himself be tortured and killed for undeserving rebels: it's focused on the object, not the subject, of love.

Sometimes the answer to the object-oriented question is, "I would want almost nothing except to know that I still matter in my weakened state and then to be left alone to rest." Which we hate, because we healthy friends want to end up the beloved hero in the drama. Hence our failure.

1 comment:

JB in CA said...

That sounds like pretty good advice for interacting with healthy people, too.