The Sickness Unto Wokeness

Everyone has their own cross to bear. You never know what suffering someone is carrying inside. Platitudes designed to increase empathy towards the other are a common linguistic trope. Humans need reminding of our essential condition to keep us from holding others to higher standards than we hold for ourselves.

I think about empathy a lot and the way we often struggle to extend it towards others, as I live with a chronic disease. When pain is a constant companion it’s easy to demand that others see our full humanity. Even when at the bottom of our own well of suffering, we struggle to extend the same kindness. If anything it is because we often live without the light of an easy existence we are willing to do more to accommodate another human soul. Because the thing about regular reminders of human frailty? It works. Slowly those with challenges do become more attuned to the struggles of their fellow man. Their heart softens when reminded that others suffer as they do.

Because the true blessing of disease in all its forms is the persistent reminder it provides to cut your fellow man some fucking slack. Someone blocks you online? They must be fighting their own hardest battle. A stranger is an asshole to you for no reason? You don’t know what is going on in their heart. Those of us that live with chronic diseases and disability have a special superpower that short circuits the tendency towards cynicism. Having uncharitable thoughts towards a friend who is chronically late or unreliable is almost impossible when you too fight for the normalcy of consistency and timeliness, as a disease flare can occur at random. We aren’t saints but we know human frailty is no sin.

I’ve long thought that anyone with significant disadvantages in life, like a chronic disease, is more likely to be sympathetic to a gentler, kinder set of societal conditions. We aren’t all leftist or committed to equity work. Hell I’m a libertarian. But the chronic disease community has more than its fair share of people who believe in social safety nets and the role of government in protecting its citizens. And the tendency to police for ableism can be sharp. Screeds toward self reliance or even off hand jokes about the morality of sickness just don’t land for chronic disease patients. And why wouldn’t it? Asking for the golden rule seems reasonable. It’s a bare minimum.

All this is to say I’m more likely to empathize with the social justice warrior set than those who are convinced it will be the downfall of civilization. Is it irritating to always be reminded of the multitudes of the human conditions and the identities that are built from suffering? Sure. Do people abuse the hierarchy of perceived victimhood for personal gain? That is as American as apple pie. But we are engaged in a constant existential battle to get ourselves out from the bottom of the hierarchy heap. The churning inhumanity of systems beyond our control makes us more attuned to hypocrisy. It makes us less rigid about opportunity, access and outcomes. We can see someone suffering and realize “there but for the Grace of God go I.” I’ll not defend the byproducts of a polarized society. I’ll will defend extending an extra beat of human kindness in your journey.

So the next time you find yourself tempted to be snide about an activist and the language they use remember me before you let less complaints about the softness or stupidity of woke society. Because what most of us are asking for is a reasonable accommodation of our humanity. You know me to be a good faith person. I’m asking that you approach me with the empathy and kindness that comes from being genuinely caring about the plight of someone you know. That’s what being woke is; empathy. And if someone you respect asks for it you grant it.