Thursday, October 26, 2006

Heartlessness: Michael J. Fox is an example of how we should all be living our lives. Rush Limbaugh’s nasty stem-cell-ad response is not.

Michael J. Fox is an example of how we should all be living our lives. Rush Limbaugh’s nasty stem-cell-ad response is not.
By Patti Davis

Oct. 25, 2006 - When I was a kid, I was once being teased relentlessly by a bully at school, and I faked being sick to stay home and avoid him. My parents knew I was faking (the thermometer under hot water trick didn’t work) but they also knew something was wrong. My father came into my room to talk to me, and I willingly confessed. He patiently explained to me that the best way to deal with a bully was to totally ignore him—treat him as if he is invisible. Because all bullies really want is attention.

I got it right back then. I returned to school, ignored the persistent bully, and he backed off. I seem less able to do that now when a bully by the name of Rush Limbaugh has accused Michael J. Fox of faking the symptoms of Parkinson’s (OK, he actually said “acting”) for political purposes. Fox, who could easily be held blameless if he reacted with rage and vitriol, has exhibited grace and dignity, ignoring the blathering accusations of the radio host and expressing appreciation that, just two weeks before the midterm elections, we are discussing stem-cell research. We could all learn from the way the actor has responded to cruelty; certainly I can.

Fox, stricken with Parkinson’s disease while still in his 30s, has not shied away from public view or expressed any self-pity or anger at the hand fate has dealt him. In fact, he has called himself “lucky”—for the unwavering love of his family, a career he can be proud of and the opportunity to use his fame to bring attention to the miracles that stem-cell treatment holds for people afflicted with many diseases, including Parkinson’s. He has demonstrated courage, generosity and compassion.

Limbaugh, on the other hand, flagrantly broke the law by procuring large amounts of drugs and then escaped the punishment that someone who is not white, wealthy and famous would have gotten. He spends his time insulting people and gets paid handsomely to do so; now we have seen that even those with serious diseases don’t get a reprieve from his cruel bluster. And his apology doesn’t cancel out the nastiness of his original comment.

While I am obviously not ignoring Limbaugh, I am determined to focus more of my attention on Fox, because he is an example of how all of us should live our lives. There will always be cruelty in the world, there will always be bullies. How we respond is what matters. There are loftier goals than mudslinging. The people we will remember years from now are those who kept walking calmly and kindly through the worst mudslinging, who kept their attention on the changes they wished to make in the world and who treated others with compassion even when they were being abused.

Fox could slink away and hide his disease from us—few would blame him. Instead, he is using the misfortune that came his way to try and open doors to a miraculous future—a future in which diseases like Parkinson’s, diabetes, ALS and Alzheimer’s could perhaps be cured. He will be known for that work, as well as for his dignity in the face of insults.

Hopefully, stem-cell treatment will be available in time to cure Michael J. Fox. There are no stem cells, though, that can cure heartlessness. Cruelty is a demon that feeds on itself. Limbaugh’s fate is ultimately the harsher one.