I was at the hospital for a little while. It wasn't anything too serious, but I had to be admitted and everything. When I was put in my first room, there was another gentleman in the room before me. He couldn't speak except through blinking 'yes' or 'no'. So my first night, I asked the nurse to ask him whether or not my reading light was bothering him, since I couldn't see him from my bed. She replied, "Oh don't worry about him. He's fine. He can't talk."
My initial response to this reply was confusion. What does not being able to speak have to do with whether or not a light would bother him? His eyes work find. Shortly after the nurse left, I realized that what she meant that he wouldn't complain about it, so I wouldn't have to worry, which simply wasn't my concern. It wasn't that I didn't want to hear him complain, but that I actually didn't want to bother him. I was able to eventually ask him myself, and he communicated that he didn't mind the light, but the more I thought about this, the more bothered by it I became.
I am not sure what really got me annoyed: the idea that this nurse must have hurt the man by treating him like that, or the attribution of such selfishness to myself, implying the common place nature of it. However, I think it is primarily tied to the fact that this man was treated more like a thing than like a person. He still deserved respect in my eyes, and she clearly disrespected him, whether he was aware of the disrespect or not.
As I reflect on it, my thoughts keep coming back to this idea that we shouldn't treat other people as if they are merely stimuli in our environment. We are made in the image of God, and contain an innate dignity that deserves respect, regardless of our circumstances or abilities. It isn't a question of whether or not the person notices how you think of them, or whether you get caught in what you are doing or thinking. It has to do with the fact that the person simply deserves that respect, period. He is holy, and trampling on the holy is simply wrong in of itself.