Which Is Worse? Judgment or Pity?

Living with HIV/AIDS should not have to mean being caught between a rock and HIV stigma

by Tyeshia Alston

prejudice[dropcap]A[/dropcap] few years ago, I had a doctor’s appointment and as usual my Pastor and his wife took me to my appointment. Now, everyone knows that going to the clinic to get an update on your HIV status is a challenge, especially when you are scheduled to see a new doctor.

As I was checking in, the woman who was checking me in was very rude and unfriendly. I didn’t think much of it. After all, it is an HIV/AIDS clinic and some people are just plain rude. As the nurse called me to the back, the worker decided to involve herself in a conversation with my Pastor. For Pastor Davis, sharing hope, faith, and love to everyone is his life and if given the opportunity he will do just that.

This particular worker asked why they would want to be seen with me at the clinic. However, she was not the first person to ask this question and I’m sure that she will not be the last. However, she was the first (in a clinic setting) to prejudge me as being a woman who slept around or a drug abuser. My Pastor informed her that I was neither. Then she said “she had to have been doing something because that is why she is in this clinic.” At this point, my Pastor’s wife stepped in and educated her real quickly, but nicely. Also, she told her that I was three years-old, having open heart surgery, and given infected blood. Now, this shocked the young lady and she stated “poor child.”

When I came out of my appointment, she was totally different toward me. She acted as if she felt sorry for me and I didn’t know why. When I got in the car I was told what happened. I sat back in the backseat feeling thankful that I had people to defend me even when I am nowhere around. However, at the same time, I felt furious that this woman works in this industry with a judgmental mind. I don’t know which is worse, being judged or someone having pity on me after they find out my life story.

Tonight, as I am sitting here thinking about this incident, it has me wondering: Which is worse: to be judged or to be pitied?

If a man grows up and turns out to be gay, so many people are quick to judge him for his preference. However, if he tells them that he was raped as a child that same judgmental person looks upon him with pity in his/her eyes. So, which is worse? I’m not saying that all men who desire to be with another man were raped; some just truly desire a man over a woman and that is their choice and I feel that their choice should not be built on another person’s standards.

If a woman is on the street prostituting herself she is quickly called a whore and beat upon by others whether physically or verbally. Nevertheless, if she tells someone that she was kidnapped and forced to sell her body, that same person no longer judges her but now looks at her with pity in their eyes. The saddest part is that they could be the same person who abused her body by being a customer while never taking time out to look at their own actions. Keep in mind, that I am not saying that all prostitutes are among those who were kidnapped and forced into sex trafficking, but I am saying that there is a thin line between judging someone and at the same time pitying that same person. So, again I ask: Which is worse?

Being HIV-positive should not mean that a person should feel ashamed of themselves. It should not mean that they should endure hardship and disrespect when they attend their medical appointments. HIV-positive people are only people like so many living with a disease. The difference is the type of disease they are living with.

When a cigarette manufacturer packages its brand of cigarettes, it places a warning label on the package to alert the consumer of the possibility of the danger(s) the product may cause. Later on in life, if the doctor informs the consumer that smoking has caused damage to his or her lungs, the individual is immediately shown love and they are consumed with prayers.

However, this is not always the same circumstances for a person diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Oftentimes, people living with HIV/AIDS are criticized, judged, and sometimes condemned. People diagnosed with HIV/AIDS are more likely to go into hiding because of the stigma attached to this disease.

So many people have different views on HIV/AIDS, including those living with the disease, who have their own beliefs about HIV, to the point that they lack support from another just because of their own views towards the next person living with the same disease.

If we don’t change how people view HIV then we will never conquer AIDS. In order for us to have an AIDS-free generation we must end stigma and to end stigma we must start with ourselves and with those who care for people living with HIV/AIDS.

So, I ask again, which is worse—being judged or being pitied? For me, I believe that in a way, they both have an equal value of disrespect. Nevertheless, if I had to choose one, I would choose pity. I choose pity because with pity there is some room for hope, for change, for growth and for support. Usually, when one is judged they are condemned and pushed away but people will gravitate to those they pity. Although one may look at you through the lens of pity (because this is their only way of understanding love) you have the opportunity to walk in my Pastor’s shoes by making this the moment to share hope, faith, and love with everyone. However, we can make a huge difference in this aspect because we can live a quality and prosperous life that will make the other person adjust his or her lens of pity to help him or her see you clearer. When these individuals look closer they will find that strength, endurance and life abide within you. You can do this by constantly asking yourself, “What would Jesus do?” and, when you obtain your answer, “just do it!”



Tyeshia Alston is an HIV-positive AIDS activist and educator living in Dallas, Texas. Ms. Alston strives to build hope, increase faith, and encourage others to live their best life. Ms. Alston is a mother of a handsome two-year-old boy. She is driven to educate others about HIV/AIDS by creating community awareness programs and providing HIV/AIDS services through her organization, SAAVED INC. Ms. Alston, has traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak with legislators about better healthcare access and how the disease has impacted communities which she serves and has served on panels for National Minority AIDS Council and other local organizations. Lastly, she is known to others by bringing her message to local talk shows and radio stations, working to do her part in ending AIDS. To learn more about Ms. Alston’s work, go to www.saaved.org and if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to email her at [email protected].