Thursday, July 5, 2012

By Grace or Luck -- A Call To Compassion

I was on Fox News yesterday morning talking about how best to get people with pre-existing conditions insurance coverage.  You can watch it here.  I look horrendous, but I made the points I wanted to make, for the most part.

By the time I got back to my office, I had received the following email:

You have a pre-existing condition, yet you feel you should pay little or no more than anyone else for health coverage. How is it that YOU aren't a "cheap rider" at the expense of the rest of us who are, by the grace of God or simply by luck, healthy???? And what else do you feel entitled to, by the way?

Dave Lukasek
Bokeelia, FL

I posted this on my Facebook page and people -- all well-meaning, trying to make sure my feelings weren't hurt, mad because someone was so rude -- responded pretty much in kind, calling Dave all kinds of names, and wishing that he gets sick so he's forced to realize the heavy burden we bear -- not just in the form of health insurance premiums.  

And so it goes.  As long as we talk to each other like this, we get nowhere.  I guarantee you that Dave genuinely was offended by the things I said about needing a mandate to make sure that people who can afford health insurance but choose not to buy it are forced to pay their own way, if not by paying insurance premiums, then by paying a "tax" or penalty to the federal government, which spends billions of taxpayer dollars per year for uncompensated care -- care hospitals provide for which they never can collect payment.  And while I think it's short-sighted of him -- after all, he could have a heart attack or get into a car accident today and then he'd be the one needing insurance but not being able to get it -- and while I never said I should "pay little" for my health coverage, we need to know that pretty much half of America feels the way Dave does.

It's sort of ironic that Dave acknowledges that he is healthy "by the grace of God or simply by luck," while not realizing that by that same grace, that same luck, Dave's health can be taken away from him just as easily, and he can become the one who's struggling to pay premiums, deductibles, copays, coinsurance, and all the expenses of being sick that aren't covered by insurance.

According to Wikipedia, compassion is defined as  "the virtue of empathy for the suffering of others. It is regarded as a fundamental part of human love, and a cornerstone of greater social interconnection and humanism —foundational to the highest principles in philosophy, society, and personhood."  

Dave is lacking in compassion.  But so are we if we wish our misfortune on him -- or on anybody else.  When we let anger overcome us, we lose sight of our better nature, our capacity for compassion.  The response to Dave that I offer is compassion.  What happened to Dave to make him this angry, that he would lash out so hatefully to a complete stranger?  

All I know is that I don't want to hate Dave because that makes me just like Dave.  And as much as his email is incredibly offensive, I know it comes from something broken inside him and has nothing much to do with me.  

I kept thinking yesterday that it was ironic that this dialogue happened on July 4th, when we think about what makes America special.  Isn't it that we are a country based on compassion?  "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free," right?  We are about civil rights.  We are about liberty, freedom, giving people a hand up when they're down.  We care for our poor and disabled through Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, TANF, food stamps.  We support nonprofits that care for the homeless and the hungry and the sick.  We are special because we are founded on compassion.  It is deeply ingrained in us, in America.

It seems, though, that we have taken a wrong turn somewhere.  People like Dave are mad as hell, and scared, too.  They feel somehow that we who are sick, who advocate for an equal chance to live a decent life despite our misfortune, are asking too much.  And we who are sick, or who are advocates for others who are, think people who don't "get it" are not just wrong, misguided, uneducated, uninformed, short-sighted -- we think they are bad people.  They are not bad people.  They are lacking in compassion -- they cannot see that there but for grace or god or luck go we all.  When we respond to them so harshly, we, too, have lost our compassion.  

What I hear from Dave isn't offensive as much as it is sad.  What happened to Dave to make him incapable of compassion?  It must have been bad.  Maybe his business is going under.  Maybe he's losing his house.  I don't know what it is, but I know that Dave makes me sad, not angry.  

I say we embrace the Daves of the world.  First of all, meeting this level of vitriol with compassion would freak Dave out.  The last thing he expects from us is kindness.  Second, if we exercise compassion in the face of all the Daves, we keep from becoming Dave and that's really important.  Third, I do not choose to carry around that kind of anger.  I spent a good part of my life being really angry.  It takes a lot of energy.  And it's no fun.  Anger harms not only the targets of our anger, but also ourselves.  

Maybe -- just maybe -- if we respond with compassion, the Daves out there will be forced to see themselves in all their bitterness and realize that they are cheating themselves out of finding the good in people, the joy in life.  Maybe, by our example, Dave can find compassion in his heart, as well.

I don't know all the answers.  And I certainly am a deeply flawed human being who struggles to stay in touch with my compassion rather than my anger -- including anger at those who tell lies about health reform that feed people like Dave.  But I know that if I lash out at Dave, he gets the fight he was spoiling for, and that makes his day.  If, instead, I turn the other cheek, Dave will be caught off guard -- perhaps enough to force him to rethink things.  And even if my compassionate response doesn't do a thing to change what's in Dave's heart, it does keep my heart pure.

Because compassion truly is the highest principle.  It is a central component of love.  Without which we are all Daves.

Just a thought.  Jennifer


  1. This is a wonderful post! If only more of us could think this way & act upon it... :-)

  2. Very well said, Jennifer. I know it's not easy and compassion does take a lot of effort, but it's a great goal to achieve! :)

  3. All I can say to all the detractors is:"You will change your minds if/when you become a chronic patient with a significant illness."
    Until then, you will play the role assigned to you as a healthy person in the land of the brave...self-interested, apathetic and often savage....susceptible to propaganda and often incapable of original thought.