About What’s Wrong With America

Clara, my wife of 30 years, was hospitalized Wed. night. My son and I took her to hospital ER at 11 pm, after she was found coughing up blood and had a blood sugar level over 900, an extremely high and potentially fatal condition.

Clara had been fighting a bad respiratory infection complicated by asthma for two weeks prior to this crisis. I finally convinced her to go to the doctor on Monday, Dec. 12th. He prescribed an antibiotic and a steroidal asthma inhaler. She began having chest pain Wed. night. What we didn’t know was she had stopped taking her insulin and eating because she felt so sick and nauseated. Her weight dropped to only 95 pounds, dangerously low for a Type 1 diabetic. Once she started vomiting up blood we contacted the on call doctor who said to take her immediately to the ER.

When I admitted my wife to the hospital at 11 pm that night, we experienced expressions of contempt from several members of the hospital’s intake staff, including nurses. They did not understand why my wife, who was screaming and incoherent and having a panic attack due to her chemo-induced brain injury was in no state to answer their barrage of rapid fire questions about why she needed their help.

She was overwhelmed by all the stimuli an ER Room generates: loud beeping noises, people shouting and running about, loud TVs playing and caregivers asking rapid-fire questions too fast for her to process during her long night of pain, terror and sensory overload. They just assumed she was bad news, possibly a junkie (she certainly looked the part due to her weight loss) and that I, as her husband, was terrible person, as well, for not being able to give them what they needed off the top of my head to complete their intake procedure before they would admit her and treat her.

To them, we were a waste of space, and a waste of their valuable time, time that could be better spent on other patients. They demonstrated this contemptuous attitude in many ways, but the effect was to make us feel that that they considered themselves our superiors, people who were beneath them. Needless to say, certain individuals did not treat my wife well during that required intake process.

I know that the intake people were having a busy night, but if they had taken the time to hear me out and let me explain why all the lights, noise, and general insanity of an ER room made it impossible for her to answer their barrage of questions and demands, it would have made a big difference.

Thereafter, I made a point to explain to every nurse, technician, doctor and other member of the hospital’s staff who saw or dealt with her that night of (1) the brain trauma Clara had suffered, (2) the cognitive issues she deals with because of it, and (3) what they, as medical professionals needed to do to help her. To be specific, I asked them to please talk slowly, repeat themselves if necessary and don’t make assumptions that just because she is acting out in response to loud noises, bright lights or their interactions with her that it meant she was some drug-addled crazy person.

I also made it very clear that her brain trauma resulted from her chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer (5-FU was the medicinal culprit), so that also got people to turn up their empathy meters a little higher. It’s strange, or maybe not so strange, but using the “cancer card” usually helps a lot with getting people to listen to me when I explain why Clara has unique needs that require a different approach to her treatment for medical issues than someone else who does not have such a severe cognitive disorder.

Recently, as I reflected upon that nightmarish experience only a few days ago, I had an epiphany.

Contempt is perhaps the worst emotion one person can feel toward another. It is the one that most increases divisiveness in personal relationships. We know this to be true based on studies of marital couples and other close relationships.

And an outbreak of contempt for others has broken out in our society over the last few decades; one that I contend is exacerbating divisions among the many peoples of our country. Many of us express contempt for others daily in part because politicians propagate this attitude with the assistance of our traditional media. Such negative memes are then spread through social media, often by people paid to generate and stir up these powerful negative emotions online. It leads many of us to hide out in our own little bubbles, dismiss the opinions and beliefs of others, and hold people we know next to nothing about in contempt.

And why do we that? Because of the lies and disinformation that reinforce lazy thinking and the easy acceptance of stereotypes with which we have been inculcated from birth, lies and false narratives we have all been told about “those people,” lies fostered and spread by the people in power who wish to keep us divided.

One can forgive anger, even hate, even murder, as the families of the victims of the Dylann Roof massacre have shown.

However, contempt – the expression of disdain, disgust, revulsion and for lack of a better term, that “holier than thou attitude” by those who express it openly toward those they find unacceptable – causes tremendous emotional pain.

It is the one act that is often hardest to forget and forgive, because it is so demeaning to those who are being reviled and relegated to sub-human status. Contempt, even more than hate, contributes to the willingness of so many Americans to cheer the suffering of others, even the outright murder and abuse of innocents, because that suffering is happening to someone else they despise, i.e., “one of those people.”

Whether fostered and nurtured through factional strife, spiteful political discourse, absurd and dangerous assumptions about others based on someone’s race, religion, class or any of the many categories people use to label other people and place them in nasty little boxes where the worst thoughts and prejudices about entire communities and groups may be taken as God’s own truth, it is a great evil.

The all too frequent public expressions of contempt, revulsion, disgust and disdain for those with whom we disagree, and who in like manner may hold us in contempt, as well, is devastating our nation. The spread of this poisonous emotion, along with its attendant behaviors, throughout our society is frequently based on a single characteristic or “deplorable” political opinion. It keeps many Americans, who otherwise have so much in common, from uniting and fighting together against the powerful elites who hold the real power over us all. Wealthy elites, regardless of party affiliation, would like nothing more than to see all of us at each others throats, rather than unite in solidarity to make this a better country and a better world.

If we are to salvage this country after the disaster of 2016, this is one of the most important things that we need to eliminate from our public and private discourse. For how can you ally with other individuals and communities to achieve outcomes that are mutually beneficial to all, if so many people’s default position is to be contemptuous of the ideas, experiences and cultures of communities and individuals of whom they know nothing but what the distorted lens of prejudice and propaganda shows?

For contempt shuts off any chance of dialogue and finding common ground. It keeps us all in bondage to a greater or lesser extent. Contempt serves the interests of the rich and powerful, not the rest of us. We need to reach out to those who are different from us in any way, and not demean and despise them. We should not dismiss out of hand their grievances because we are so certain of our rightness, our moral superiority or simply our self-perceived greater knowledge and intelligence regarding the proper course of action needed to fix our country’s many, many seemingly intractable problems.

To refuse to put aside our own feelings of righteousness, and our belief that those who disagree with us are worthless, ignorant and possibly immoral idiots that deserve only our scorn, is to accept the continuation of the war of all against all. It will inevitably take us down a path that will result in furthering the pervasive corrosion and decay of society, and dash any hope for a better, more equitable and sustainable world.

For if we fail to change these inimical attitudes, fail to stop scapegoating others for the flaws inherent in our culture, and our financial and political systems, we shall surely end up living under a tyrannical and repressive government, suffering from ever worsening economic hardships, and watching our world descends into ecological and environmental collapse.

Count on it.

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