Spreading the Cure

For my New Year’s resolution, I’ve been thinking to pick something simple and achievable… like finding a cure for cancer.  

I should probably provide a little context. Several months ago I got a call from a doctor who confirmed that I had breast cancer. Even if you’ve never had to deal with cancer, I bet you still know how it feels to get such news. The feelings that come from hearing a lot of the political news today can be just as upsetting and can lead to the same questions a cancer patient like me naturally wanted to ask. More specifically:

“What can I do about it?”

My doctor gave me a few options. Cut out everything (a full mastectomy) OR cut out some (a lumpectomy) and radiate the rest. He also gave me the option of removing my healthy breast to eliminate the risk of cancer appearing there too (and to even out my “boob job”). I had some decisions to make. I decided to educate myself on cancer first.

Cancer is essentially dysfunctional cells gone wild. How “wild” depends on when you detect them and where they are in your body.  Since they can grow so rapidly, these cancer cells often prevent your awesome, functioning cells, from doing their job. And that’s when it gets deadly. Cancer can only kill as it spreads to vital areas. The key to survival is early detection.

Destroying and removing cancer cells has been the solution to cancer for a while. It makes sense. Usually the body takes care of mutated or dysfunctional cells but if the body can’t keep up, that’s when doctors, medicine, and radiation step in. But researchers have been looking for ways to eliminate cancerous cells without completely destroying everything. The scars, prosthetics, and other side effects aren’t exactly ideal. So, researchers are studying the principles of how our bodies already deal with potential cancer cells, fixing them one cell at a time. If cancer grows and spreads only when the body can’t keep up, why not strengthen the body’s ability to keep up? If successful we end up with a stronger body that can fight off cancer.  

Since my diagnosis, I can’t help seeing the parallels in politics today. Political cancer keeps creeping in, preventing us from finding real solutions to our problems and threatening the stability of our nation. The problems aren’t necessarily new, but the rate of spread is similar to a really bad cancer.

I’ve been disappointed by the approach our political peers and politicians offer us. The most common thing I see is a simple statement of the problem. That’s like saying, “I’m sorry, you have cancer, there’s nothing you can do about it.”  The diagnosis is helpful, but not without the hope of a cure.

The other problem is that when faced with a political disagreement, we tend to blame each other — or blame the other person’s “political team”. Labelling each other as the problem is probably the least helpful of all of the current approaches to finding a lasting cure.

So what can we do to cure our own political cancer?

Value each person, regardless of who they are, what they’ve done, or what they currently think.

People are not cancer, but treating them like the problem can certainly either create more of it, or increase its rate of spread. Thoughts and feelings such as hurt, anger, and resentment has a way of spreading destruction within ourselves and from person to person.  Just like the spread of cancer from cell to cell, treating others without kindness and understanding can continue to spread that anger and resentment.

We need to treat each other with kindness and even understanding. Even if someone says something that is particularly insensitive or hurtful, don’t keep that cancer going by spreading more. You have to be stronger than the hurt, taking it and transforming it into something useful.

Let’s say someone calls me an idiot because I don’t agree with — fill in the blank. I can respond by saying: 1) I’m interested in understanding why I need to agree. Tell me more. 2) I believe better solutions can be found by including more perspectives, not just my own. Wouldn’t you agree? (I might then include some thoughts that help round out the argument, not as a rebuttal, but to show that there is more that can be considered.)

Sometimes a person is still determined to label me an idiot, no matter how nice I try to be. I add in some patience and give that person space to figure things out. Sometimes healing just takes time. If I reach this point I stay focused on trying not to perpetuate bad feelings (which I admit is hard to do).

And that brings me to the next part of the cure….

Forgive, even without an apology.

I have struggled forgiving at times, especially when it seems like the offender is completely ignorant of the pain he/she has caused. I used to think that by sitting down and telling someone what they did to me, my hurt feelings and pain would go away. I used to think that if someone finally said sorry, as I stubbornly waited them out, I would be free of those bad feelings. In reality, these methods just spread more bad feelings and resentment, within myself and the other person.

Instead, true healing comes from unconditionally forgiving someone else — and yourself. I can consciously let go of hurt and anger, freeing myself from those feelings and preventing their spread, even if a person isn’t aware and never says sorry. Forgiveness is one of those indescribable miracle cures that has the power to heal pretty much anything.

This can be a bit tricky in the political realm. There are plenty of things going on right now that are truly upsetting. Everyone is upset, even if for different reasons. But I need to find a way to forgive the cause of my bad feelings before I can seek to repair and rebuild what I believe needs fixing. Trying to address the problem with hurt and anger, even if I feel those feelings are justified, does a lot more damage than we realize. Other people catch on to that hurt and anger, further spreading its destructive power. Common ground is harder to find; people get defensive and further entrenched. If we forgive, removing those negative feelings first, we have a better chance of seeing each other in a good light, even those who are supposed oppressors and offenders. Forgiveness clears our minds and opens us up to strengthening and repairing in ways we might naturally think impossible.

Seek to strengthen and build up, rather than cut out and tear down.

We don’t need to solve our problems by tearing each other down. I lost a part of my body to cancer and I will never get it back. That doesn’t have to be our political future. The cure isn’t out of reach.

The secret is found within individual cells, within each one of us.

We can be the cure.

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