Tolerance is Hard…
I’ve heard it said that Liberals are tolerant of all groups except Conservatives. I’ll drink to that one and add in-your-face Evangelicals as a personal note. And I had my mettle tested this week in an interaction with a man who is both.
I’m a SHIIP volunteer, which means that I help people with their Medicare choices and problems. He was one of my clients. He arrived in high dudgeon because, after two years on Social Security Disability, he was now eligible for Medicare. For most people, this is greeted with open arms. Not so he. Because he had been covered by (subsidized) Obamacare for $24.50 a month because his income is quite low. Now, if he did not apply for some special benefits, his cost for Medicare would rise to $134, plus he would need a drug plan. Not fair, he decried. This is a rip off. All those immigrants living off the fat of the land and they want to take what money I have to pay for it.
I was quiet, let him speak, then gently suggested that he could apply for assistance to help defray some, or even all, of the costs of these medical plans. He, offended by my suggestion, immediately said no. He would not stoop to take welfare, he said, his voice shaking. I nodded my head and responded that I understood his feelings, asking him to keep an open mind as we reviewed what his costs would be without doing this.
And after more than an hour, of my mostly listening and attempting to interject a few factual statements, he began to listen. At least listen a bit. And just when I thought I was getting through, he brought up those people he saw using food stamps, buying beer and champagne, and the welfare family he knew who had five cars, Cadillacs, as I remember.
I sat, quiet, knowing that it was useless to counter, to talk about purchase restrictions for SNAP, like beer, wine, and certainly champagne. I didn’t add that I worked with many people getting assistance; I know of none who drive Cadillacs or have five cars. I realized that this wasn’t about facts. If it were, I might have pointed out that his disability payments, and his subsidies for health care may have counted toward those benefits that he was so quick to denigrate.
So I listened, and tried to help him trust that I was there to help. Finally, he agreed to allow me to work with him to apply for Extra Help for his medications, then asked what I could do to get him Medicaid. When I told him that that was something that I wasn’t able to do, that he would have to visit the Department of Social Services for that, he, bristling again, told me that there was no way that he would go and sit with those people.
I bristled inwardly. Here I was, faced with an opportunity to practice kindness, caring, for a bigot, a bigot who needed my help, but a bigot nonetheless. While I was considering my response, he stood, visibly shaken, thanked me, and said that he just couldn’t take it any longer. In spite of my personal feelings, I understood. We agreed to meet next week.
Perhaps by that time, he’ll look at things differently. Perhaps by next week he’ll see his personal situation differently. He really does need a hand. Perhaps by next week, he’ll understand that others do too, that we are all in this together. Perhaps by next week, he’ll be less of a Conservative. Perhaps.
And so I have been thinking about this experience, this opportunity to see the face of someone who looks at life differently from me, to see his pain, his need to feel that he is not like “those people,” even though he is. I think I grew from this encounter, and I am thankful for that. As I got into my car to leave that day, I realize that our meeting had left me drained, physically, mentally, emotionally. This seeing life from the other side is exhausting. No wonder we do it so seldom. But it is also life changing. And worth the effort. It’s my hope that by our next meeting, I’ll can bring more than facts, that I’ll be able to bring a kindness that comes not only as an act of discipline, but also one that comes from my heart. And, just possibly, he will understand himself and those people just a bit more.