Why Can’t We Treat Each Other With Kindness and Compassion?

Amy Gietzen avatar

by Amy Gietzen |

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About a month ago, I popped into Target. I grabbed a cart and started to sanitize it. While wiping the handle, I heard laughter behind me. A group of teenage girls were waiting for the sanitizer wipes.

Now, I know I don’t necessarily look sick. If you knew nothing about scleroderma, looking at me you might think I was a perfectly healthy woman. The only telltale sign is my hands, which tend to stick out like a sore thumb.

As I continued sanitizing the cart, I heard a gasp behind me. With a hushed voice, one of the girls remarked, “This girl is so slow! I could be checking out the cute jewelry over there by now.” Her friend replied, “Did you see her hands? I think her dog bit her fingertips off! Oh, my God, gross! No wonder she’s slow!”

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A small smile crossed my lips at that moment. I’m fully aware of how my hands look and how they may shock or offend people. Almost all of my fingertips are gone. I had the misfortune of getting severe ulcerated sores on my fingers when I was diagnosed with scleroderma.

With each sore, the skin gets infected over time and then turns black and dies. This gradually left less and less of my fingertips, and no amount of treatment helped them heal.

So I understood their reaction. I did find it comical that she thought a dog bit off my fingertips, and that this was why it was taking so long to clean my cart. Not because the cart was filthy.

Having dealt with rude behavior for two decades, I decided to take a poke at them, too. “Do you girls know where the dog food aisle is?” I asked. Their mouths dropped in shock. One of them stammered, “Aisle two.”

As I pushed my cart, I started thinking about the other times someone has spoken to me in a negative way or approached me and asked why my skin has red spots or why my mouth look so small and my teeth so big.

Kindness over cruelty

When I was newly diagnosed and my body started to change, I was very self-conscious. Having a stranger point out in front of other people the thing I was most embarrassed about was soul-crushing. People can be so cruel.

I couldn’t understand what made people speak so unkindly to someone they had never met. I’ve never approached a stranger and told them they look weird or asked, “Why did you put on that top this morning? It’s hideous!” People do not think about just how deep their words can cut someone. I’d much rather have someone approach me to ask questions rather than prejudging and speaking negatively.

One summer, I went to a gas station while visiting my family in Florida. As a person with hand and finger deficits, I have a difficult time opening the gas cap on my car. The attendant must have seen me struggle, because he walked over and asked if I needed assistance. I accepted his help. He unscrewed the cap and handed it to me. While looking down at my hands, he asked, “I don’t mean to pry, but do your hands hurt? They look very painful.”

Had the teenagers at Target approached me in a kind manner like the gas station attendant, the outcome would have been much different. They could have learned something they didn’t know before they met me.

In the meantime, all I can do is try hard not to take other people’s opinions too personally. Each experience we have in life is a chance to learn and grow. It is also a chance to educate the public about how to treat disabled people respectfully. In the end, everyone is just trying to live life the best we can. We all deserve to be treated with kindness.

Note: Scleroderma News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Scleroderma News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to scleroderma.


Melissa Sampson avatar

Melissa Sampson

Thank you Amy for your courageous heart. Always remember to look into that mirror everyday and see the beautiful woman you are!!!

Asha (Jeanine) Martin avatar

Asha (Jeanine) Martin

This morning, prior to seeing your post, I read an article on lovingkindness written by Ayya Khema. Lovingkindness, unfortunately is not a skill possessed by everyone. There have been too many occasions where I have been met with cruel behaviors/words. In those moments, I try to remember those who have been kind and supportive. Below are excerpts from the article I referenced. May you have a blessed day!
"When the Buddha talks about lovingkindness, he is talking about a quality of the heart that makes no distinction among any living being. The highest aspiration mentioned in the lovingkindness discourse is that you should love all beings just as a mother loves her only child. Those of you with children know the feeling you have for your children and can tell the difference. How do you feel about your own children and how do you feel about other people? That is the work one has to do. Unless one is willing to purify oneself until all beings are considered as though one’s own children, one hasn’t understood lovingkindness and its importance." "The heart needs training because by nature it isn’t constituted to always feel lovingkindness. By nature it contains both love and hate. It contains ill will, rejection, resentment and fear, and also love. But unless we diminish the hate and enlarge the love by doing something about it in our daily life, we have no chance of experiencing that peaceful feeling that lovingkindness generates in the heart.

It’s a skill. It’s not an inbred character fault or ability. It’s a skill to change oneself again and again until all impurities have been cleansed. It’s not because other people are so lovable. They’re not.

Lovingkindness can be cultivated in the heart with great benefit to ourselves. But the ultimate destination is egolessness, because the more lovingkindness there is in the heart, the less ego. The more the ego diminishes, the more love can come from the heart. When other people are taken into the heart, the self has to step aside to make room. Others are benefiting by that as a matter of course, but that is a secondary consideration. The only person we can lead to liberation is ourself. Everybody has to go alone. Anybody who would like to come along is welcome. The bandwagon is big, and there aren’t enough people on it yet."

Iris Montero avatar

Iris Montero

I have not been formally Dx with this disease, but my son has and he swears I have the same thing he does I certainly hope not. I know he is suffering every day and I pray for him everyday. Thanks for this information. It is helpful.

Cheryl D. Kilroy avatar

Cheryl D. Kilroy

With my journey into my diagnosis of Scleroderma, (2005) age 46
the pen has been a mighty tool for me.
After living in darkness for a couple years trying to take it all in
I decided to move on as life stood still for a moment.
I found writing brought people in to see what my world looked like from my perspective.
As I read what I wrote--it brought me-Hope.
Alone We Are Rare, Together We Are Strong!

Cheryl D. Kilroy avatar

Cheryl D. Kilroy

I meant to add my 29 yr old daughter has Scleroderma too
Diagnosed in 2009 age 16
Many complications plague her at the moment
She weighs less than 100 lbs, can't eat food gives her pain, Raynaud's is bad, headaches, etc


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