Being brave and having courage always starts with language. In my life I hear Maya Angelou’s words: “The price is high. The reward is great”.
Standing alone when necessary in the midst of family or community or angry strangers can feel like no one will ever hear you. If this is the price we pay then do it with an open heart. But do you have to put up with someone tearing you down or questioning your right to exist? The answer is NO! We all need to have boundaries. How do we know where our line is not to be crossed. That is a question only you can answer for yourself. Some of the areas that people struggle with are physical abuse, emotional abuse, being bullied, the feeling of being invisible. It is very dehumanizing. David Smith, the author of Less Than Human, explains that dehumanization is a response to conflicting motives. We want to harm a person or a group of people, but it goes against our wiring as members of a social species to actually harm, kill, torture, or degrade other humans. Smith explains that there are very deep and natural inhibitions that prevent us from treating other people like animals, a game, or dangerous predators. “Dehumanization is a way of subverting those inhibitions”.
Michelle Maiese, the chair of the philosophy department of Emmanuel College, defines dehumanization as “the act of demonizing the enemy, making them seem less than human and not worthy of humane treatment”.
Dehumanizing often starts with creating an enemy image as we take sides, lose trust and get angrier and angrier. We not only solidify an idea of our enemy, but also start to lose our ability to listen, communicate, and even practice having any empathy. Once we see people on the other side of a conflict as morally inferior and even dangerous, the conflict in this starts to be framed as good versus evil. Maiese writes once the parties have framed the conflict in this way, their positions become more rigid.
In some cases parties come to believe that they must either secure their own victory or face defeat. New goals to punish or destroy the opponent arise, and in some cases more militant leadership comes into power. It’s hard to believe that we could exclude people from moral treatment, and basic values. The point is that we are all vulnerable to the slow practice of dehumanizing, we are all responsible for recognizing it and stopping it.
When we become part of dehumanizing or promote these images, we diminish our own humanity. Reducing immigrants or any group we see as the “others”, says volumes about who we are and our integrity. Each of us are responsible for what we think, what actions we take, and the words we use. To see things change we must change the actions we take, the thoughts we think, and the words we use. To see change we must become the change. To do otherwise we betray our humanity.