Intolerance is Not a Black and White Issue

Of course “Black Lives Matter.” Just like white ones, red ones, blue ones, and every other color that we place as a ‘label’ on a life. All. Lives. Matter. But that isn’t the end of the story.

KingisRightMartin Luther King, Jr’s vision was not just about ending racism, but about stopping every form of intolerance that denies the basic respect that all life deserves. With his transcending attitude of justice, I wonder just how long King would have made it as a paramedic. Facing people on their very worse; day after day, or night after night, has an affect on your mind. Watching people abusing a system that is intended to provide a literal “lifeline” to the sick and injured eats away at compassion. Seeing what people do to themselves as a result of their over-indulgence, arrogance, or addiction can layer a crust over the heart of tolerance.

I have heard first responders speak openly about those who “do not deserve my compassion.” This mindset justifies the segregation of our patients. It is a segregation not based on skin color, but on some invisible scale of worth. A scale that we try to teach others in order to make us feel better about how we fit upon it. This expression of attitude reminds me, however, to commit myself to practice compassion based on another popular saying instead: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” In my own past, I have easily given my compassion to a drug-seeker who fooled me with an insincere exhibition of pain. More regretfully, I have also withheld some measure of that compassion for a patient who was in real pain and that I had assumed was simply too lazy to drive himself to the hospital. I prefer now not to be a judge of the character of the heart of any patient I treat because I truly do not know their personal pain nor the extent of their real struggle. And most importantly, because the time that I have to make an impact on their lives is incredibly small. I have come to learn that in those times when I do not know what is the right thing to do, I can live easier with the choice of doing what is the best thing.

This morning, I read a story about an EMT in Minnesota who admitted to stealing $120 from the wallets of two teenage brothers killed in a car wreck. Like all of us, she had bills. Like all of us, she was not paid enough for the public service she rendered.  She simply found the wallets lying in the road when she arrived first on the scene. Not a penny of that money could do any good for those teens any longer. She made a bad choice. A very bad choice. I do not know her, or anything more about the situation, but I would prefer to believe the best about her. At least as the woman she was in the beginning of her career. None of us entered the field with illusions about becoming rich. Most of us have a genuine desire to do good for others. Unfortunately, we too often work in a corrosive environment for our souls. But, as Dr. King reminds us, “The time is always right to do what is right.” So today, challenge yourself to go back to the roots of your service. Instead of trying to toughen up the “FNG” who is just getting started in his journey, borrow some of his fire to rekindle your own passion and renew your spirit. I bet your career in EMS will last longer too.

1 Comment

  • Anne C says:

    Very good advice. We forget as you stated: “the time that I have to make an impact on their lives is incredibly small…”
    We underestimate our impact all around.

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