HIV is a touchy subject with many people, especially since the world is rampant with harmful misinformation about what HIV is. If you know someone with HIV, you might want to lift this person up. If you can help create a better environment for people living with HIV through compassion, your efforts extend to more than just that one person – they can have a reverberating positive effect on everyone.
Start By Understanding
You can’t be compassionate about something you don’t really understand. Now and then, we’re all guilty of assuming we really grasp the entirety of a situation by things we’ve heard from other people. Unless you’re getting your information directly from someone with HIV or a reputable resource for people with HIV, you could be coming from the wrong place.
Make sure you aren’t buying into any damaging stereotypes about anyone, let alone people with HIV. It often happens innocently enough, but it can sometimes have unintended consequences that damage our communities.
Avoid Treating People Like Victims
Thanks to modern medical science, most people with HIV live relatively normal lives. Everyone with HIV is different, and there is no blanket statement that would apply to all people who live with HIV. There are likely people living with HIV who live and work in your community, and you may not even know. Compassion is a genuine care for people, and the genuine place it comes from is less focused on recognizing them for their adversity and more recognizing them for who they are and what they mean to you.
Don’t Push Too Hard
At a certain point, forced compassion feels disingenuous. It can even lead to compassion fatigue, making it difficult for people to truly care about things that matter. Compassion can certainly be dealt with a light hand. It means being there to answer a phone call in the middle of the night when someone is having a hard time. It means giving your time and energy to help people who need it the most. It doesn’t have to take up every ounce of your energy to make a real difference.
Talk Less and Listen More
One of the biggest parts of compassion is respecting people’s privacy. Don’t pry about someone’s medical status or personal medical information, and make sure that people around you understand that it’s not okay to do that. Don’t force people with HIV to talk about how they feel or what they’re dealing with – just be there for them in the event that they want to talk. Pressure makes people uncomfortable, and if someone with HIV prefers to keep that part of their life private, see to it that their wishes are upheld.
The biggest thing that anyone can do to inspire compassion in other people is to educate them. Even if all you can do is direct them to reliable advocacy organizations that display scientifically accurate information, you’re doing more than many others would. You don’t need to be an expert to tell people where they can find one, or endorse the statements of the HIV community. If you can join one of those organizations in any capacity, you can be a part of the positive change that’s slowly but surely having an impact around the globe.
Above all else, it never hurts to ask someone living with HIV what you can do to support and better understand that person. Nobody knows better than someone for whom HIV is a reality. As long as you’re respectful in your approach, you’re on the right track.