Recently, we posted a story on The Seattle Lesbian titled, "A Day with HIV." The concept of the project chronicled was straightforward, leaving nothing to interpretation: a photographic illustration of one day in the life in 2012 while living with HIV.
The news release our office received stated, "Each day across the globe almost 7,000 people, including 900 children, will contract HIV, joining an estimated 34.2 million people already living with HIV. During any 24 hours more than 4,600 people around the world will die of an AIDS-related cause.
"But on one day, Friday, Sept. 21, people everywhere, both HIV-positive and -negative, can share an image of coping and care through the lens of a camera. On that day, Positively Aware is asking people to take a digital photograph to record a moment of their day that will focus the world's attention on the daily trials and triumphs of people living with HIV. For the third year A Day with HIV will help remove the stigma of HIV and to advance an international community of care through this collective photographic portrait."
Inspiring. Captivating. Breathtakingly honest. Right? Not so much, according to one reader.
While delving through the comments for review following the post, this one circulated to the top like a glaring cannonball on the battlefield, striking everything wholesome in its path:
"Yes, and let us remember the negroe gave America and the world HIV!!!!!" The comment was signed, simply, "RW."
The Seattle Lesbian did not approve this comment, for obvious reasons.
Flabbergasted is not really the appropriate word for the amount of disbelief present due to that sorrily stated comment. All I could think was that a collaboration that should've brought the world together in the face of an epidemic that has destroyed numerous lives was instead bringing out the worst in someone with an iron pen. Was this person a critic hiding studiously behind his or her computer screen deflecting obvious internal issues that were stunting his or her growth as a human being?
Webster defines compassion as "sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it." What RW lacked in his or her comment and thought processes going into that comment was compassion. Instead of attempting to alleviate someone else's pain, he or she decided to throw salt into the wounds of more than 34.2 million people already infected with the epidemic and the 7,000 newly-infected individuals, some children, joining the aforementioned bunch every single day.
It's curious to me as someone who tries extremely hard on a consistent basis to recognize the plight of others to wrap my head around the lack of compassion we offer to our friends, colleagues and complete strangers. A negative tongue like a knife to the back, a battle royale because of communication breakdown, becoming mired in one's own distractions that we no longer have the resources to give of our time to those who have given of theirs freely without asking for anything in return. We take. Quite honestly, we're good at taking. We've become an extremely greedy and indifferent society.
But when do we stop the cycle of "give me more" to "here, let me help" and actually, 100 percent, mean it? When do we stop trying to please ourselves and offer a hand to someone else? When do we take our noses away from our computer screens where we are safely anonymous and actually foray into the world of sickness and death head-on?
Accountability is described by Webster as "an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one's actions."
RW, this is your moment for growth. May you earnestly find compassion for others and may others, likewise, find compassion for you.
Sarah Toce is editor-in-chief of The Seattle Lesbian.