Contempt is an insidious disease that steals your heart and corrodes your soul. It happens quietly when you aren’t looking. It starts with seemingly harmless generalizations about the patients that are your privilege to serve. I know how it happens because it once happened to me.
The real cause of contempt is the one-sided nature of EMS work. We don’t see people at their best. We mostly see them at their worst. Recovering alcoholics don’t have much need for an ambulance. But you see folks active in their additions every day. This makes it only too easy to generalize about them negatively.
The same can be said for people from a certain geography or ethnic group. When you run calls in a tough neighborhood nobody ever calls 911 to say, “Hey, nobody on this block has called an ambulance all year.” But those blocks do exist just a stones throw from your busiest response area.
Here’s the rub. Compassion and contempt cannot exist in the same heart at the same time. They are mutually exclusive. If you are genuinely compassionate towards all, contempt cannot enter your soul. So too if you have lost your heart to burn out, real compassion will elude you. Now you are just faking it.
I’ve recently been exposed to some caregivers that are total burnouts. The contempt they feel for their patients dripped from their skin like cold sweat. Those few who were consistently compassionate stood out like rare gemstones. I concluded this was a conscious choice they made every day. I think I know why.
Because being compassionate makes life easier. Contempt is like a corrosive chemical that degrades all goodness. It steals your humanity away one stupid comment at a time. Flowers don’t grow in an acid bath. Caring is just a more natural human condition.
These angels of mercy stand out like brilliant lights in the fog. Everyone they touch feels better for the exposure. They have no room for hate because they are filled with love and gratitude. They are genuinely grateful for the opportunity to be of service.
If you catch yourself going along with someone who is filled with emotional poison know this, your soul is in mortal danger. If you merely smile and refuse to agree or acknowledge the poison, then it can’t hurt you. All it takes is a smile. Then you will be bulletproof. There will be room in your life for joy and fulfillment.
Ever notice how the worst burnouts have the unhappiest lives? Their marriages suck, their children are little monsters, and they are always broke. I’m not sure exactly why this is true but I suspect it starts with the little things. Unhappiness is a choice.
My suggestion is to make the choice to care when you put on your service uniform. Put that commitment into action by being compassionate to everyone. Be even more compassionate towards those that others might not. It will change everything for you. Your world will be brighter and more filled with joy. Your family will love you more. Life will cut you a break once in awhile.
Try it. Prove me wrong.