During the past four years and the recent election I have learned that words and actions can be interpreted in many ways. Anyone can be judged, defined and branded simply for having an idea or making a suggestion.
I frequently hear from people who have thoughts about who I am outside of my work with Less Cancer. Some think I engage with too many Republicans while others think I engage with too many Democrats. Or they think I embrace ideals that represent one party or the other. I constantly remind everyone that what’s important is our focus on cancer. There are no sides in that fight.
Because I’m active on social media, I also witness others being judged, often harshly. Express an interest in human rights and you are suddenly “too liberal.” Concern for hungry children is likely to brand you as “left-leaning”—a socialist. Sadly, simple acts of charity are quickly twisted into a political stance.
Less Cancer is separate from who I am, and it is separate from the labels people try to put on me and others, either to identify or vilify. Both conservative and liberal legislators have worked with me on policies for Less Cancer. We may be unlikely partners, but we can—and do—work together for the greater good.
The work of Less Cancer is based 100% on evidence-based science. It’s not a preference; it’s science. Its mission is cancer prevention for everyone—not just for some—and not determined by political party. The goal of Less Cancer is to develop education and policy tools to lower risks associated with cancer and to secure public health.
Passing judgement on others is not new; it’s just more obvious in the digital age. People on social media jump from one friendship or relationship to another as if changing channels in an effort to align brands and likenesses. People choose who to stand with or not stand with based on their perceptions (accurate or not) of who individuals are or what they represent.
We have lost sight of the fact we are all just humans. We are more alike than we are different. We are all vulnerable. And we are all imperfect. We should be thinking about building alliances instead of barriers, and working together to improve the condition of those less fortunate than we are.
Today, at age 61, I am painfully reminded of the vulnerabilities of my youth. I am having dental work done with alarming frequency to fix problems caused by radiation for cystic acne, which was a side effect of seizure medicine I took as a teenager and young adult. I remember what it felt like not to fit in back then—and it’s not unlike the criticism I am feeling today.
Since childhood I have interacted with the world through service to others. It’s always been my way of navigating the world. It’s what I know how to do. For nearly 20 years the focus of my service has been Less Cancer. It has been my passion, and I have often worked two or more jobs to support that cause. But somehow that has not been enough. People want me to fit their notions of what I should be. They want me to be like them, no matter what my personal preferences are.
Earlier this year I suggested that rather than just sharing sound bites people should actually give from their hearts to causes that matter to them. The causes I contribute to in my small way may be different from those supported by my friends and family, but in any case, giving speaks louder than words.
This Thanksgiving, it is my hope that everyone can stop looking at how we differ and try to understand what each of us has to offer for the greater good. Let this be a time when we all look into our hearts and realize how alike we are. We are all human. We’re just people.