“A friend is the wax that keeps the flame lit, an enemy is the wind that blows it out” ― Anthony Liccione
“Our behavior is a function of our decisions, not our conditions” ― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
Back in 2014, I wrote a blog (Saying the Right Thing to a Cancer Patient) about what to say, and what not to say, to a cancer patient. It was my way to help others communicate better to people with a chronic or life-threatening illness.
This blog digs a bit deeper about the issue of using someone else’s affliction – whether it is a chronic or life-threatening illness – as a guilt-trip instrument against another individual’s plight.
As a cancer patient, it is disheartening to hear from close confidants of how others have used my current condition as a guilt-trip or manipulative instrument to belittle someone else's hardship … regardless if it's more or less severe compared to mine. This type of unhealthy communication is akin to: There are starving kids in China, so eat all your food on your plate reproof. It’s bad enough when I'm talking to someone that they sometimes minimize their own grievous situation to my own ‘cross to bear’, so by discounting their own suffering. But to use my cancer as a manipulative guilt trip against someone else is … well … the reason I’m writing this blog.
Using a family member, friend, or even a stranger’s ill-fated misery as an opportunity to play down another person’s hardship is a benighted misperception of the perpetrator. In fact, comparing someone’s life struggle, even though it may not be life-threatening, to another’s affliction is a sign that the perpetrator has become the reflection of schadenfreude, a “fiendish, diabolical, and an infallible sign of a thoroughly bad heart and profound moral worthlessness.”
What’s more, playing down another person’s hardship threatens their sense of self-worth, respect, and confidence, which could possibly compromise their ability to navigate the turbulent waters of life; analogous to clipping a bird’s wings and preventing them from soaring toward a prosperous and fulfilling destiny.
Here’s the truth about individuals, like me, who are enduring life’s hardships:
We are not special, nor are we heroes. It was just our time to face life’s affliction. This is the basic tenet of being human, for we all must “bear the whole stamp of the human condition.” Moreover, every human being will face both life’s joys and tribulations – two certainties intertwined together that forms the essence of the human condition. Notwithstanding this truth that all human beings are subjected to the human condition, we do exemplify, however, our own uniqueness by our attitude and actions in response to the tribulations of life. Within each individual, their “behavior is a function of [their] decisions, not [their] conditions” (Stephen Covey). Besides, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves” (Man’s Search for Meaning).
So, my advice on this issue is twofold:
- to those perpetrators who find it necessary to belittle and compare one individual’s life struggle to another – please stop. As mentioned before, playing down another person’s hardship threatens their sense of self-worth, respect, and confidence.
- to those individuals who are facing life’s hardships – please do not minimize your own 'cross to bear' by comparing your situation to another’s. And when encountering someone ... okay, let’s call them as they're – a bully ... who feels compelled to belittle your situation, be firm and remind them that we all have our own ‘cross to bear.’
And my only ask is this:
Please do not use my situation as a guilt trip instrument against others, because when I’m painted as a sorrowful creature with cancer … it’s a complete lie. On the contrary, I am thankful that God has allowed me to be tested through cancer, on account of being comforted by His strength, peace, and faithfulness. This alone I give praise to Him, for as He comforted me in my cancer so that I can comfort others in their troubles (2 Corinthians 1:3).
Photo source: http://www.actforlibraries.org/people-who-belittle-others-are-only-belittling-themselves-6/