When Compassion Meets Anger
This past week we witnessed anger vented at our government like we have never seen from Americans in our lifetime. I wondered how to address it in a blog meant for bleeding disorder topics. I couldn’t ignore that it happened. I tried to focus on something positive this week. I found myself thinking about compassionate heroes: those who put themselves in harm’s way to get footage of the riots; who tried to help people who were injured; who used kinder language to soothe anger and hate.
As I was thinking of this, I recalled our own situation in 1992, when I attended my first national hemophilia meeting in Atlanta. My book Raising a Child with Hemophilia was being promoted, and I was so focused on that, and raising my 5-year-old with hemophilia and 2-year-old daughter, that I was shocked when during an interview a newscaster asked me what I thought about what was happening at the NHF meeting down the road. What was happening? I didn’t know what she was talking about. I was oblivious.
I soon found out. Stepping into the exhibit hall, where pharmaceutical companies promoted their booths, I saw protesters yelling, waving their arms, scaring people. One had red paint smeared on him and wore a death mask. They then marched together throughout the hall, banging a drum, calling out companies. It was grim. Some pharmaceutical reps fled the scene. In fact, most did. The booths were being emptied quickly.
At one booth, a lone rep stood his ground. I was standing next to him when Michael Davon, a person with hemophilia and HIV from Boston, walked up to him and began yelling. Michael was quite taller than the rep and intimidating. He threw packages of needles in the man’s face and yelled, “And your needles are the wrong size!”
I wondered what could possible happen next.
Joe Pulgliese, general manager of Armour Pharmaceuticals, the man who had the needles thrown in his face, responded calmly, “I think there are bigger issues here to talk about instead of needle size. Tell me what the problem is.”
The rage, absolute rage about being infected with HIV from contaminated blood products; pharma’s role in this; cover-ups; not being believed and not being heard; the deaths of friends and colleagues.
By simply exposing himself to the anger, absorbing it, taking a stand and offering a listening ear, Joe calmed Michael down. They sat. I watched from the sidelines in amazement as Michael quieted but continued his list of accusations. When everyone else fled, Joe had stayed, unafraid.
I saw the power of compassion, even in the face of potential violence, and the power of listening. Angry people want to be heard. But often our first reaction is to retreat, or defend ourselves. Or even fight back. No one ends up listening. Angry people have a right to be heard. Violence is not acceptable, but not being heard and not feeling compassion can lead to heightened emotions, and even violence.
Today is Joe’s birthday, and I’m proud to say he has been a friend since 1989. He was my first contact in the hemophilia community, and he has been a friend to the community for decades. He secured funding for so many nonprofits for family programs and camps. He approved my book in 1990, when I was a complete unknown. And he works today still, overseeing the Hemophilia Alliance, which helps HTCs with funding, to keep them viable, to serve us.
There will always be angry people, there will always be protesters, and there will always be wrongs that need to be righted. But there aren’t many people who stand in the face of it all, look it in the eye, and say “Tell me what’s wrong.”
Happy birthday, Joe! We have been and still are blessed to have you in this community.