There But The Grace of God--

Question: Write something about the need for people to lose their negative attitudes about people who have “certain” diseases: HIV, cirrhosis, hepatitis, B&C, lung cancer.

I’m not sure I am academically qualified to address how or why people need to lose their negative attitudes regarding certain illnesses. From personal experience I know judgments are passed, criticisms are expressed, behaviors assumed, and eyebrows raised when certain diseases are present.

Culturally, I think we Americans tend to think that we know what is right for others, believing our way is “The Way”. That ideology can lead us to being judgmental of others, of believing definitively that there is a right and wrong way of doing just about anything.

The above mentioned diseases do seem to bring with them the stigma of having done something “wrong” to cause them and-- that may be the case. We know that lung cancer can be caused by smoking-- but not all people who have lung cancer smoke. We know that cirrhosis of the liver can be caused by excessive alcohol intake-- but not all people who have cirrhosis drink alcohol. We know that HIV can be a sexually transmitted disease but anyone who remembers the young hemophiliac Ryan White or held a baby born with HIV knows that sex or drugs is not the only transmission. You get the point I am making. Some people who have contracted diseases are experiencing the consequences of their choices, others are living and dying with the apparent randomness of life. When we encounter a person with a socially stigmatized disease, is the cause of another’s situation really our concern or more our opportunity as human beings to be compassionate in regards to their challenges?

“We never know what goes on behind closed doors”, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, “Until you walk in their shoes”, “People who live in glass houses . . . ” (and we all do), “Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone”, these saying all tell us to keep our judgments and expectations to ourselves.

In response to our own and other people’s attitudes toward people with “negative” diseases, I think the best we can do is to recognize within ourselves the “There but the grace of God go I” philosophy, to be grateful for what our life choices are offering us, and to practice charity and compassion for others as they walk their path of experiences.

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