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