The Trap Of Dehumanization In A Divisive Culture

Everybody shut up and let me think.

2016.

This, of course, would have been my yard sign during the 2016 Presidential Election…had I had the guts.

My Facebook feed was constipated (I don’t use that word lightly) with political rants, claims of the end times, uninformed tirades, and accusation after accusation. The noise deafened the nation to reality and muted the truth.

Whatever the truth was.

***

“I fear in this highly sensitive time in our society, and within the divisive culture in which we are creating, we are reawakening a national habit of dehumanization.”

***

Society segregated at a rapid rate, and many divided into camps of favored opinions. Assumptions were made, indictments were said, feelings were hurt, relationships severed between friends and even family members.

Many of us built walls between opposing sides–not a physical wall but a social one, separating us from them and them from us. And as the wall got higher and higher, and wider and wider, we drew further apart from the those on the other side. The whole of them faded into memory, they sank into the evil parts of our minds, and, whether we admit it or not, they became a little less human. Democrats, Republicans, and everyone in between lost a piece of humanity in the eyes of another.

Listening And Respect Go Hand In Hand

I felt robbed when I stumbled upon Bryant H. McGill’s quote about listening. In 2011, as a camp counselor attempting to quiet the screaming voice-cracks of pubescent boys, I coined the phrase, “The easiest way to respect someone is to listen to them.” McGill says it this way: “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”

In order to listen to a person, we must first recognize the individual as a person. I fear in this highly sensitive time in our society, and within the divisive culture in which we are creating, we are reawakening a national habit of dehumanization.

A quick look back at world history can reveal the grave consequences of falling into such a trap. Instead of who, people become what. And, as we segregate for lack of understanding one another, the fear of each other grows until it morphs into hatred.

Hate Starts With Ignorance

The world’s greatest tragedies have been a result of segregation due to a toxic cultural dehumanization. When, despite the norm, genuine relationships have been built between slaves and slave-owners, Jews and Germans, Jews and Palestinians, Tutsis and Hutus, gays and straights, blacks and whites, or Democrats and Republicans, individuals have been labeled as an exception to the rule–the rule that claims most are bad, but this one is good.

We too often hold tighter to our macro-level cultural bias than to our personal experience with another human, excusing positive encounters as uncommon occurrences. But, if we, as humans, actively behold another’s humanity through authentic relationship and respectful communication, we can begin to deconstruct a perilous metanarrative.

“It’s hard to hate up close,” said Dr. Oz. So, before we go to war against one another (again), let’s battle the wall between us. Face to face (notice I didn’t say Facebook to Facebook) interactions and authentic relationships is a healthy start. We may never understand those on the other side, but we can try. We can love. We can respect.

The least we can do is listen.

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