Last year on my island “vacation” to Cielo we made our annual trip to the leprosorium. If you’re not familiar with that term, it’s a place where people with leprosy who have been shunned from their communities are forced to live. There are also people in the Dominican Republic who suffer from leprosy but are not shunned by their families and communities, but they still come to the leprosorium for treatment. However, those patients are sometimes faced with inappropriate comments from people in the community who may not be familiar with their disease. They face some of the same negativity as the patients who live on campus at the leprosorium, and they deserve the same courtesy offered to the full time residents.
The doctor who works at this particular facility is very thorough in his description of the three forms of leprosy, but he is most passionate about the fourth type. He calls it “leprosy of the heart”, and we all suffer from it to some degree.
Some of the symptoms of this deadly form of leprosy include:
- an inability to empathize with the trials and tribulations of fellow human beings, be they large or small. One man’s mountain may in fact be another’s molehill, but to the man who experiences a molehill as a mountain, the height is no less overwhelming
- an overpowering need to be right at all costs, sometimes without taking time to fully understand the circumstances of the other person or people involved
- the need to silence any and all oppositional voices because you disagree with their opinion or assessment of a given situation
- seeking first to be understood as opposed to understanding (Steven Covey probably wouldn’t appreciate the way I reversed that, but it fits the situation)
- adopting a superior attitude over those who may not be as educated as you are or as versed in certain life experiences
- and cutting to the (black) heart of the matter, being downright mean to other people, just because you can, or want to.
Yes, I have exhibited symptoms of leprosy of the heart, or call it dead heart, or closed heart. Whatever makes sense to you. I have also been on the receiving end of the pain inflicted by someone else exhibiting similar symptoms.
What to do about this?
- Before you speak, think. Think about your words before you toss them out there, because once they’re out they can not be retrieved. Are you really trying to be helpful, or are you just feeling the need to be superior, or dare I say it, just plain obstinate?
- Be gentle with those who may not have the luxury of your education, or whose lifestyle is not in line with your own.
- Don’t take away someone else’s voice. You might not like what they have to say, but they have a right to a voice just as much as you do.
- Keep in mind that your opinion on a situation may be based on gut instinct, or it may be based on your direct experience with the subject at hand. If you have no direct experience, then choose your gut instinct observation words carefully.
I could go on, but frankly I’m exhausted, as well as just plain sick and tired of the drama. To whom it may concern, you may indeed be right. But your choice of words seem to have been chosen to inflict the most damage with the fewest keystrokes. But remember this: some of the parties involved are people you have never met in person and have no direct experience with other than some rather testy confrontations on social media.
I know I suffer from leprosy of the heart. It is, for the most part, the normal human condition. My search for truth and a way to open the closed heart will take me down paths that you are not going to follow. You do, however, take great pleasure in insulting those of us who do choose paths that may not correspond with yours. Embrace that perversion if you feel you must. One other option may be to apply that previously mentioned Stephen Covey habit as he intended, and seek first to understand, rather than to be understood. Understanding does not mean acceptance. It does mean mutual respect. I try not to hurl insults at anyone whose life philosophy is different from mine. Sometimes I fail, and when I do it hurts me to know that I may have, inadvertently or not, hurt someone else.
Trying to live with an open heart is a hard, hard thing to do. But it has been my experience that the benefits of making the attempt far outweigh the hazards of remaining closed. It’s just like the open vs. closed hand metaphor. It is impossible to accept a gift of something that could be more remarkable than anything you’ve ever received if you continue to keep your fist closed tightly around whatever it is you think you can’t give up.
I fully realize that if you indeed read this, I am opening myself up to being on the receiving end of ridicule, condemnation or just plain old snarky meanness. Be that as it may, I am making the conscious decision to leave that behavior up to you. I am quite finished. Sometimes the only thing we can do is to close the heart back up so as to avoid any further damage.
I feel better having written it though.