I exited a stairwell today in the hospital while I was making my rounds on patients, and walked right in front of an extra young, extra thin, extra bald guy in a hospital gown pushing an IV pole. He smiled and we kind of shared a laugh about how I almost knocked him over in my rush and clumsiness.
And I thought.
That could easily be me. I mean, maybe not the good-natured, gracious part, but certainly the cancer part. My cells could start dividing and wreaking havoc. They haven’t yet, but they could. I’m only the one in the white coat and he the one in the gown so far, by luck or circumstance or divine intervention or some other abstract, crazy thing. I didn’t do anything right. He didn’t do anything wrong. It’s just where we are today because life is weird and random and sometimes very, very unfair.
There’s no “us” and “them.” There are no providers and patients. Providers become patients all the time, when our bodies break as bodies do. And patients, if you ask them, have probably been providers for their loved ones before and, if they’ve been patients for long, know a hell of a lot about conditions and treatments.
There’s no “us” and “them” any other time, either. This filthy, throbbing, puss-filled abscess of a U.S. primary election season has demonstrated again that we humans like to square off into teams. We are freaked out by people not like ‘us.’ We are threatened by people who look, sound, love, believe, behave differently than us. We point guns and wave torches and build walls to try to protect our impression of the tribe that is ours. I think it’s natural self-preservation to clump together in homogenous tribes. We like to think we’re evolved from this, but clearly we’re not. We’re the melting pot or melting salad or whatever we’re now calling ourselves proudly when it serves our needs. We’re a big ‘ol combination tribe, right? But are we.
I’m not surprised there are a lot of people who want to promote some Great America relic and who mistrust anyone who is identified as ‘them.’ The most recent immigrants to the States are always mistrusted and despised for a while, and then they’re worked in. Remember how shady the Irish were? Me, either. That hate was before my time.
That’s American History. It’s bullying the new class until there’s a newer one.
Some people, for example, those who were tortured and bound and dragged here to work with no rights, dignity, or provisions, might be the newer class for a long, long time.
I’m told it’s a childish fantasy to think everyone could get a fair shake. That ‘we’ can’t possibly protect and promote everyone. That identifying injustices for some might mean we’ll be asked to accept the extra justices we ourselves have…and potentially will be required to give up some of those. That we should just take what we can for ourselves and not wallow in others’ suffering. That we shouldn’t feel guilty over our 12-course meal when others didn’t eat tonight. It’s just the way it is. ‘They’re’ different. I work hard. I deserve it. Perhaps they didn’t want to eat. Perhaps they don’t work hard enough. Perhaps they don’t deserve it.
That there are always going to be roadkill people and driver people. Just be sure you own a car.
I try to stay aware of my privilege because it’s kind of everything. I didn’t do anything special by not getting cancer and getting to be the healthy person. Just like I didn’t do anything special by being born into an area, into a family, where I was safe, well-fed, educated and wealthy. I made some good choices, yes, but mostly I just landed a role as a heterosexual white, rich lady. My ancestors immigrated here long enough ago that I’m just generic, safe American now. Non-threatening. I’m even straight! I’m a woman, yes, but I’m a modern woman born here, so I’m allowed to go to school and drive and support my family and stuff. Neat!
And just as I didn’t do anything especially right with my ancestry and biology, people who were NOT born into safe, affluent area and demographics didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, some have family history of torture and murder in the name of building this country and they have been reduced and reviled since. They’re just more recent immigrants…or, you know….not immigrants exactly.
That their effort to take care of themselves and their kids looks different than mine, when they have different experiences and expectations and way WAY different obstacles, should not be a surprise.
I point out my privilege because I’m aware that I’m not up against the same things other people are. I’ve never walked in their shoes. I don’t know what it’s like. I do know we’re all people, all part of what should be the same tribe. Supposedly our country is about all people. The ‘us,’ the ‘them,’ and the ‘we.’ We should be taking good care of each other. We should feel pain when we witness others’ pain. We should be doubled over by now, for what some of our fellow men are suffering. Instead, we’re doubling down on protecting our ‘us’ and punishing the ‘them’ for being ‘them.’
I have no answers. I don’t know who to vote for. I don’t trust anyone. I don’t know if government or church or synagogue or mosque or individuals or corporations or schools can make a dent in this, if it comes back to human nature’s flaws. I can parent my kids in a loving direction and I can *try* (and often fail- fancy food and lattes, oh my!) to use my resources in ways that I think are good for the whole big tribe. I can rant on the internet. That seems like something no one else is trying. I’ll start there.
Watch this 10 minute video for a little hope and perspective. It is scienc-y and data-y but also FUN (I promise). It’s an illustration on how we’re empathetic beings by nature and we’re actually getting better at it through history…there’s evidence, so I guess I have to believe it. I want to believe it. I really, really want to believe. Empathetic Civilization, by the Royal Society of Arts.