Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Poison of Selfishness

Insensitivity is no virtue, since love patient kind and is not rude (I Corinthians 13). Being callous to people's pain only hurts them more. Some insensitivity is rather minor: it hurts a soul's feelings or frustrates the one who is not understood. The chronically ill face this repeatedly, since so few of the healthy can put themselves in their place. They lack the moral imagination for it.

Yet in some cases, a lack of empathy can have dire consequences, effectively ruining a human being's life. Consider Jane (not her real name). Jane is extremely and dangerously sensitive to a common household product. If her neighbor uses it, Jane cannot go outside and becomes imprisoned in her own home. Further, her family has had to buy expensive air filters simply for her to survive in her own home.

Jane and her family have kindly asked--not demanded--that the neighbor change brands, even offering to buy a life-time supply of a similar product that Jane is not sensitive to. Instead of believing Jane, the neighbors called the police and put a restraining order on the family, claiming that Jane was lying about it all. One with even modicum of empathy would listen and respond with concern, not wrath.

This kind of selfishness is not merely rude; it is criminal. Yet the law (thus far) has done nothing to stop the ruination of a chemically-sensitive person's life by an emotionally-insensitive and calloused neighbor. Please pray for Jane all those who suffer in a similar way. Also, look into your own heart to see if you, too, may be callous to the suffering of others. I must do the same, day after day.

Jesus commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to treat others as we would like to be treated by them. This demands empathy and special concern for "the least of these." Without this, those insensitive to the chronically ill may sentence them to an even more horrible life than what they have previously experienced. We are called to be our brother's keeper, not our brother's enemy.

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