When I Watch My Friends Support Political Issues but Not My Illness
A few weeks ago, while scrolling through Facebook, I stumbled across an article that made my blood boil. It wasn’t so much the article itself as it was the shares that were piling up from multiple “friends,” who were broadcasting it like some kind of badge of moral righteousness. The article was titled “I Can’t Explain to You Why You Should Care About Other People” and in it, the author gripes about what she sees as a fundamental and often partisan divide on what it means to be a good person. She says she’s tired of explaining why people should support issues like raising the minimum wage and funding public schools.
The overwhelming response to the article was very hard for me to swallow, and not for the reasons you might think. I’m glad that most of the people in my community wouldn’t hesitate to pay more to help those less fortunate. As a lifelong liberal, I stand behind that sentiment 100 percent, but to me, those beliefs don’t make you a good person any more than they make someone on the other side of the fence a bad person.
I think to boil these issues down to those who “care about other people” vs. those who don’t is reductive, insulting, and most troubling, I believe it lulls us all into a dangerous complacency about what it actually means to be good person. If I sound like I’m taking this personally, it’s probably because I am.
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness that turned my life upside down. As someone who has always been fiercely independent, I did my best to deal with my health matters on my own for as long as I possibly could. After a while, I felt like I was drowning, and I began reaching out to friends and family for support. And like so many dealing with chronic illness, I proceeded to watch as some of my most significant relationships began to fade away. I imagine that some people thought I was “too much,” others didn’t have the time to be there for me, and many didn’t know what to say or do so they opted for nothing at all, but the lack of support at a time when I needed it the most was devastating.
Simultaneously, I watched as those very same people marched in parades, donned safety pins, wrapped themselves in rainbow flags, championed animal rights, and advocated for virtually every marginalized group under the sun. By almost all accounts, they were the poster children for caring.
But they weren’t there for me, and this is far from just my experience. Time and time again, I hear my story from others who are struggling. For whatever reason, it appears to be easier for most of us to stand with a crowd of protestors than sit beside the bed of a friend in need. Does that make us bad people? Probably not, but I think it should give us pause before jumping on our moral high horse and declaring ourselves the empathy police.
The author states that the “I’ve got mine, so screw you,” attitude has been oozing from the American right wing for decades, but do we really believe that attitude is limited to Republicans? Are the rest of us exempt from such accusations, even as we stockpile our lives with an endless supply of stuff we don’t need, while millions of people go without the basic necessities, or watch as friends, family and neighbors struggle with illness and hardship without offering to lend a hand? I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy it.
There is a world of difference between what you believe and how you act, and those of us dealing with extreme hardship see this discrepancy on a daily basis. My friends and family know that I am ill. They know that I have fallen off the map; they see my social media devoid of any activities, and they read my occasional posts about my illness. But they rarely, if ever, reach out to help. They are busy living their lives, which is understandable, but admonishing others about “how to be a good person” is not.
So, while I’m glad that all these people would happily pay an extra 4.3 percent for their fast food burger so the employee can make more money, or at least brag about their willingness to do so on Facebook, I don’t want us to forget that our beliefs don’t necessarily make us better people — to me, our behavior does. And before we are so to quick judge others, I think we should take a long, hard look at ourselves.
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Thinkstock photo by Yuanting