Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Immorality of Illness

There has been some talk on some blogs lately about the morality of health and how many people see being healthy as a moral virtue and being unhealthy as being a vice. Whenever people get sick, one of the first things people do is look for anything about that person that could have contributed to the illness. Do they smoke? Do they eat a bad diet? Are they fat? And if they can find *anything* that MIGHT have contributed to the illness, they blame the person for the illness. I often suspect that people do this for the same reasons that people often blame the victim in a crime. There isn’t a lot of difference in my mind between the statements “She deserved to raped because she was dressed like a whore and walking around alone at night” and “He deserved a heart attack because he is a fat slob who eats bacon every day” No one deserves those things. But blaming the victim makes people feel safe. They can tell themselves that they wont get raped because they dress modestly and never go out alone. They can tell themselves that they wont get a heart attack because they don’t eat bacon and they aren’t fat.

I had an interesting real life example of how this happens this morning. I was standing in line at the cafeteria at work waiting to get some sausage patties to put on a bagel sandwich I was having. I am getting a cholesterol test tomorrow so I figured what the hell, let’s put some fat in the old bloodstream. The woman in front of me in line was one of those perfectly dressed women with perfect hair and perfect makeup and a perfect body. She was clearly the type who puts a lot of effort into her appearance.

She was ordering a couple of scrambled egg whites which as breakfast fare goes is actually pretty good. Once her order was placed, she got this weird smug smile on her face and she said to the cafeteria worker who was taking her order, “You know that guy who usually comes in here with me. You know the bald one who always orders bacon or sausage or ham. That guy! Well he isn’t here today because he is in the hospital with heart problems. He wont be having any more bacon I can tell you what!”

I was completely stunned. I couldn’t believe that she would be so smug about it. Seriously this woman was about to break out into Dana Carvey’s Church Lady Superiority Dance. She honestly seemed glad of her co-worker’s illness and apparently wanted everyone to know how superior she was to him. So I stood there and I wanted to ask her if it was more moral to eat eggs without the yolk or to refrain from gossiping about an ill co-worker. I wanted to ask her if being healthy was more moral than blaming someone for being ill. I wanted to ask her if a cruel gloating egg white eater was a better person than a kind sausage eater.

But, of course, it wouldn’t have been appropriate to say any of those things. Instead I just smiled and said, “sausage please”

And before someone pipes up with the usual "But you have to take personal responsibility for your health" crap...please remember that there is a difference between taking responsibility for one's own choices and blaming others for their choices. I am all for people taking responsibility for and owning their choices. What this post is about is how people blame others when they are sick.

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