A guest post by Malcolm Nicholas
…….another biopsy was needed. It needed to be done in the next two to four weeks …. Two weeks went by — no appointment. Three weeks – nothing. Four weeks – still no word. My husband is a very patient man and doesn’t like to cause a fuss, whereas I am impatient! I tell him to ring the hospital … we have cross words as he says I am nagging …I say I am not nagging, I just want to get this done … so you get the picture. When he finally does ring, he is apparently on the urgent list, but they are waiting for theatre time. Another week goes by, I ask him to ring again and we have a repeat of the previous week’s argument, but eventually he does ring …. and has to leave a message on an answer phone.
We can all relate to the experience of somehow feeling ignored, forgotten. We have pre-set ideas of what is reasonable to expect in terms of health care (eg hospital availability and treatment), services (eg water or transport), or social provision (eg school entrance or housing benefits). And of course, we want the best for our families. But when we feel ignored, when we don’t receive these services due to unexpected events, lengthy queues, lost records etc we feel victimised. Something that we see as our right is being denied us. We have a sense of loss of control, vulnerability, even anger. Our ability to plan ahead is undermined. We are caught up in fear when time is of the essence and a delay could worsen the situation. Worst of all we feel alone, abandoned, no longer valued, “fallen off the radar”.
Complain and Claim
Faced with the experience of injustice and unfairness in what often seems a haphazard and chaotic world, we in the west have turned increasingly to the law to fight for compensation. The litigious society has taken its roots from the US and, in the past thirty years, has dug ever deeper into the soil of our psyche. Whether it is late trains, interrupted energy supplies, a medical mistake, or some traffic accident we may or may not have had, lawyers will fight on our behalf to gain financial recompense.
Sometimes this is appropriate and complaints do have a place if standards are to be upheld and services improved. This is especially necessary if life-changing injuries create a need for long-term care, alterations to a home, and appropriate staffing. This is surely good and right.
But there are many more occasions where financial compensation cannot change the situation, it is sought simply to express anger. Increasingly, when we say “it’s not fair!”, we allow our sense of injustice to turn us inwards and ask “What can I get out of this? How can I use the situation for my own benefit?” In effect we sell our suffering at a price.
As we increasingly grasp at opportunities for complaint and recompense we are apt to close our minds to the alternative possibility. This is an important loss.
But there is another way
Our experience of injustice can turn us outwards. It can, if we allow it, give us a taste – just a little taste – of others less fortunate than ourselves, thus enlarging our own life experiences, our understanding, our vision, and our action.
The interruption of the domestic water supply for a few days could turn our attention – even momentarily — to those who have to traipse several miles on foot each day to reach a water source, which may be intermittent, contaminated, or at the mercy of a landowner up-river who regulates it according to his whim.
Frustration because I cannot have my heart surgery this week could lead me to consider the plight of those who cannot even get treatment for a simple yet dangerous infection.
Dissatisfaction relating to the lack of certain facilities within my home could lead me to spare a thought for those whose homes are damp-ridden, bug-infested, or those who have no home at all.
These things are but examples of a wider question: does my experience of life turn me inward to myself or outward toward others? It’s easy to look around and see others who seemingly have more than we have – more in money, more in goods, more in employment, more in apparent satisfaction: “if only I had their life” we think (in reality, with very little understanding of what “their life” is really like). But we each have our experiences, our life. Will my life, my attitude towards it turn me inwards or outwards? And if it’s the latter, what actions might result?
Does my experience of life turn me inward to myself or outward toward others?
To enter the experience of injustice or to be adversely affected by a medical error or some other misfortune is not something we would choose. It simply comes upon us, unexpectedly looming over the horizon and making us feel vulnerable. It may be tempting to make an instinctive response based on accusation, resentment or financial gain, but if that’s all we do, we are unlikely to learn the lesson of the alternative way. Here there are gains more widely shared. They include understanding, compassion, fulfilment, and gratitude. And the actions that flow from this can enlarge our horizons and even bring us delight. Have you seen the smile on the face of a starving boy with a biscuit? The gratitude of a mother leaving a clinic with a living and healthy baby? The enthusiasms of a man following cataract surgery that has given him not only his sight but the ability and dignity to provide for his loved ones? The relief of a homeless young woman who has secured an adequate room in which to live? Have you seen that?
Great things happen when briefly and partially we step into another’s shoes and share just a glimpse of their life experiences. If we let it, it will enlarge not only our vision but our vey being.
Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth!
My friend Malcolm Nicholas has spent thirty years in ministry and leads spiritual retreats at The Northumbria Community. He has created a collection of spiritual habits for people who don’t like complicated books — profound, yet surprisingly uncomplicated. I recommend it! It’s called Journey Into Spiritual Spaciousness from which this piece has been taken and adapted with permission.
Interested in more bite-sized spiritual reflections? Try 5 things I wish I’d known when I became a Christian