Jillian Horton is a physician and author of We Are All Perfectly Fine: A Memoir of Love, Medicine and Healing.
I am a doctor with a lifelong interest compassion in clinical care. I also practice and teach mindfulness. That’s why I’m surprised to find myself saying something I would have thought shocking a year ago: I don’t want to hear more about kindness.
I assure you – my fatigue does not stem from kindness itself. I clearly believe that kindness matters. One of the reasons we engage in mindfulness practice is that research has shown it can lead us to be so kind. I’m sick of compassionate gaslighting: talk about kindness following public policy that leads to unnecessary illness and death or inadvertently silences conversations about the range of normal feelings in a pandemic.
My experience with compassionate lip service goes back to my childhood with a severely disabled brother. For a very short life, my sister was marginalized by the society. I have seen a parade of ineffective doctors, social workers and counselors in and out of my life. I also noticed a pattern: The ones most talked about in kindness were rarely the ones who were kind.
Does that surprise you? Think about the kind people you know. There’s a good chance they support another quality that coexists with kindness: humility. Humility means that they are not taking the time to lecture other people on how to behave. They are in the field, doing the real work.
As a health care worker, I am also seeing another phenomenon: an oversight of what kindness means in practice. A physician from Alberta recently wrote a wonderful piece stating that whatever your views on vaccines, health care workers will be there to care for you “Ted Lasso Like” Kindness. I appreciate this honesty. And yet, I find myself thinking about the fact that therapists work in environments that often stigmatize the expression of negative emotions. The idea that we don’t even have those feelings is part of a problem known as medical exceptionalism One of the many root causes of toxic stress in health care.
I had some very toxic feelings on September 1. Hundreds of Anti-Vaxxers Were Gathered for Their Lack of Glory the street outside the hospital where I work, Repeating this stunt in Canadian hospitals on 13 September. My coworkers and I were incredible. His presence outside our facilities was too harsh to be real.
How arrogant, how deaf would it be of me if I urged my weary colleagues to “kindly” meet me? And who believes that people intent on shouting outside a children’s hospital would receive instructions from Jesus if He were in the neighborhood?
I didn’t feel like Ted Lasso. But I allowed myself to feel disgust and resentment—both natural reactions to their actions; To be angry at his selfishness and cruelty. After a while it passed. I started thinking about something else.
If, one day, I found myself taking care of these people, could I care without hostility? Absolutely. This is called professionalism, and it is a fundamental requirement of being a health care worker – although it is worth noting that indigenous patient, people with highly stigmatized diseases such as addiction And other groups often experience care that falls below that basic standard.
But, in this case, should I pledge “Ted Lasso-like kindness”? To me, that question is demonstrative. The heart of kindness is deeply personal. Only we know why we do what we do. I’ve cared for everyone from business tycoons to rogues, with tears rolling down my cheeks sometimes. The second time around, I didn’t feel much but still did a good job. My inner life runs the same circle of emotions as anyone else’s. This is the case for any adult with healthy frontal lobes. Bottle up those feelings and you’re sure to develop a problem that you’ll eventually talk about with a psychotherapist. Feel it, name it and release it, and over time, it passes. It is just a feature of our humanity.
So I’m going to say something I never thought I’d hear myself saying: Please stop talking about “kindness.” If you are a politician, medical expert or government official who is creating or defending plans that result in thousands of people getting sick and dying unnecessarily, you have no right to talk about it. If you are a health care worker, set realistic standards for yourself and do your best. And if you’re one of the people pushing this system to the brink through your actions and choices, instead of lecturing the rest of us about kindness, you should hold your breath. I’m sorry to say that I think you will need it.
Keep your opinion sharp and informed. Receive the Opinion newsletter. .