Were we to walk down the street and observe someone with a
deformed and mangled extremity, would if ever occur to us to comment, “Hey,
check out the loser with the funky hand.” Similarly, if someone took ill and became riddled with blisters, would we even think of commenting pejoratively on their appearance? Of course not, that would be cruel, inhuman, uncivilized.
Yet, from a very early age, most of us are most assuredly conditioned to comment on another’s intelligence openly and cruelly. How easily words like “stupid, idiot, retard”roll off our lips as if such traits were perfectly fair game for mockery! Yet, does this person have any more choice over their mental capacity than the cripple over his shortened leg? Yet somehow many of us – myself among them –grew up in an environment that somehow strangely attributed some sort of fault to mental shortcomings. It was okay to be ugly, crippled, sick, and sickly – compassion
abounded. But don’t dare be unintelligent! This was clearly a fault and shortcoming, and you were fair game for ostracism.
This is assuredly all the more true for mental illness. How easy is it to comment
“Oh, never mind them; they’re crazy.” How easy is it to dismiss someone as “nuts” and even have a laugh at their expense from a position of righteous superiority?
This sadly translates how even a compassionate family might regard a mentally ill child or sibling. We hide them; we are embarrassed by them; we treat them as if they, and we, are somehow at fault. We find any encounter with mental illness unbearably awkward and run for the exits.
How odd is it that we can accept illness or defect in any other part of the body with no associated stigma yet find no such compassion for a “defect”in its singularly most complex organ – one in which even the most minor variation (quantitatively akin to blister on our foot) manifests itself in a behavior outside of our acceptable norm.
It makes you wonder how far we have come from deeming the mentally ill as evil or possessed and hiding them away in a dank dungeon.
I have often thought that it would not be all bad if all of us had some personal
encounter with mental illness. There could be no more humbling yet therapeutic experience. And perhaps, just perhaps, such an experience would recommend a moment’s hesitation before words like “fool, idiot, psycho” depart our lips.