How Do You See People?

“Only the soul that ventilates the world with tenderness has any chance of changing the world.”  ~ Father G.

If I have learned one thing in my 26 years of nursing, it is that you cannot judge a person based on their appearance. I have had patients that looked like they came straight from the country club that were the most condescending, rude and demanding. I have had homeless, drug-addicted patients that were the sweetest, kind and caring. I have had outwardly religious patients that would praise God in one breath and curse the staff in the next. I have had patients in immense pain or having to wait for tests or test results, express concern for me as to whether I had eaten or had a chance to sit while watching me rush around.

When I was growing up, differences were to be avoided. If they didn’t attend church – bad. If their parents drank – bad. If they had tattoos – bad and probably dangerous, maybe even criminals. If they were African-American, or Asian or Hispanic – be wary, they might be bad. If they smoked – bad. If they rode motorcycles – bad, probably headed to hell. Going to the movies – bad. There was no proof that these people were bad, just differences and a fear that arose from those differences.

As a nurse, I’ve taken care of hundreds of varied patients with not only different illnesses or injuries, but different cultural beliefs as well. I’ve had to change my views from the way I was raised, which happens to all of us to a degree as we age. In the last five years especially, I’ve learned to relate more to my patients (and now students) as “people” and less as “patients.” Everyone has a story — whether it is from where they come, what they do, who has influenced them, what they hope to achieve or any of the myriad facets that make us who we are.

Yesterday, I was told I was a “breath of fresh air.” Ehhhh . . . I’m not sure about all that, BUT . . .

I do understand what was being said. I didn’t ask questions purely related to the medical complaint or the patient’s basic medical background. I engaged in conversation — I expressed an interest in them as a person. How can I treat someone effectively if I don’t understand them? How can I teach effectively if I don’t grasp the background of the student? How can I be an “effective” person if I don’t engage?

When you view the picture above, what is your immediate reaction? Are you repelled? Disgusted? Intrigued? Do you make assumptions based on what you see? If you make assumptions, are they negative? Why?

When I see the above picture, I see a story waiting to be told. There’s a reason behind the artwork. (And yes, with the extent of those tats, that is artwork with a story behind it.) I see a young man with a lot of life experiences. I credit Father Greg Boyle’s book, Tattoos on the Heart, for changing my perspective on people and differences.

And so I leave you with a short message from Father Boyle . . .

One thought on “How Do You See People?

  1. Pingback: Divisiveness | The Road Back Home

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