From a very early age, the Golden Rule is pounded into our heads: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” or something like that, depending on where you were raised.
On the surface, it seems like a good principle to live by. After all, why treat anyone in a way that you wouldn’t want to be treated?
I’ll tell you why. Because they are different from you.
Why is this relevant to us — cancer patients and their caregivers and families? It’s relevant because we all handle the situation differently and we need to be treated the way we want to be treated, not the way that others would want to be treated if they were in our position.
I know it’s hard to believe, but my wife and I are somewhat introverted and, with the stress of her cancer and everything that goes with it, are very easily overstimulated, which results in tremendous anxiety. We prefer to deal with our situation privately.
Others handle it differently. They need to talk about it with everyone and anyone who will listen. They like to be surrounded by people at all times, and accept all manner of help. They love it when people ask, “How are you?” and are happy to tell them.
Neither way is right or wrong, per se, because everyone has to deal with the situation in the way they are most comfortable.
The problem comes when the outgoing people (the extroverts) try to help the introverted folks like us. They call too often, they want to come over to visit, they want to help in ways that are way outside our comfort zone (like cleaning our house), and often insist on doing these things.
Why would they act this way? Because, subconsciously, they would want these things if they were in our shoes.
As I speak around the country, I hear all sorts of horror stories about well-meaning people who offer to help and won’t take “No” for an answer because they think they know what’s best for us. The result: extra stress on the patients because the extroverts are being too aggressive.
The opposite can also be true. The introverts would tend to leave the extroverted patients alone in order to give them the privacy that they would want. The result: extra stress on the patients, who feel like the introverts don’t care.
Let’s change the Golden Rule. Instead of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” let’s try “Do unto others as they would do unto themselves.” In other words, treat people the way they want to be treated, not the way you would want to be treated.
This presents a new challenge: How do we know what others would “do unto themselves” or, more importantly in this context, how will others know what we would “do unto our own selves?”
The answer is simple: We have to ask and we have to tell.
I believe that it is our responsibility to educate our own friends and family about how we want/need to be treated during this difficult time. If you don’t like the way people are treating you, then you have to do something about it and train them as to how you want to be treated.
They do have your best interests at heart, so they should be receptive. If they’re not, you have to either ignore them or avoid them. It’s not easy, but nothing about cancer is easy, is it?
It is also our responsibility to ask others how they want to be treated by us. Let’s get on the same page with our friends and family. It can only lead to lower stress for everyone.