A surprising way to connect with the most difficult individuals

I have met, in the emergency department, some fierce individuals. Sometimes they can be terrifying.  Their clothes, their manner, their demeanor, the way they pace, all suggest potential danger.  They seem clearly capable of violence.  They look at me with distrust, expecting to be disrespected, dismissed, treated harshly.

Sometimes, they are covered in piercings; a thing alien to me.  Other times, the symbology on their clothes speaks volumes.  My colleagues in other areas doubtless are experts in gang-colors and signs.

And sometimes, even where I practice, my patients (or the parents of my patients) have their entire bodies marked with the blue ink of tattoos.  Not the kind of nice, suburban parlors where well-financed young people express their safe rebellion, followed by a frappuccino.

I mean the tattoos that cry out gangs, hatred, pain or loss. Tattoos that speak of prison and that seem to be dermatologic epics along the lines of Ray Bradbury’s Illustrated Man.

And yet, I have learned something.  Something very powerful.

When they bring their wives, their husbands, their infants and children, they are as vulnerable as the rest of us.  And when they do, we can break through the psychological warfare of marks and clothes, of ink and signs.  And we do it by treating their loved ones with love.

The most imposing man or woman will melt when we show genuine concern and love for their spouses, partners or children.  They will smile when we say, “What a beautiful child!” They will shake our hands, or hug us, when we say, “This is scary, but she’s going to be just fine,” and we mean it. And when we sit by the bed and talk to them as humans, as fellow spouses and parents.

Jesus was so concise.  “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

Love them the way you want to be loved, no matter how they look, no matter how you have been conditioned to view the external, dermatological and emotional armor they wear to defend themselves.

And who among us doesn’t have some armor of his own? Ours our stethoscopes and lab coats, educations and houses, influence and position.

Love them, and you’ll break through. And maybe they’ll break through yours as well.

Edwin Leap is an emergency physician who blogs at edwinleap.com and is the author of the Practice Test and Life in Emergistan

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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