A behavior that usually happens in areas with many persons in which we look down or seem too busy so that we don’t have to acknowledge the existence of others or look in their direction because we might actually have to say, “Hello.”
At first, we may not actually see the dehumanizing effect that this behavior, we have all accepted as normal, has on each other. But I ask all of us to pause for a moment and consider the fact that human beings, who were made to relate to each other and share life in families, communities, and nations; pass each other in various arenas without acknowledging each other’s presence. What has happened to us?
If we can veer into a different but related topic for a moment and talk about the world of non-verbal communication, one of the things that we teach in classrooms throughout the country is that when the eyes are pointed down and there is a lack of eye contact, this usually is a sign of lacking confidence. When a person moves away from you in some sort of way, that is a sign of being uncomfortable. When a person is on their cell phones with earbuds or “Beats” in their ears, that’s a sign of being present in a different world than the one they are walking in currently. But seriously, just from a communication perspective, what are we communicating about ourselves and the value we place upon others when we do not acknowledge someone’s presence who shares the same space as we do? We are providing a negative portrait of both us and them…and therefore the relational distance between two human beings gets wider.
And maybe we like it that way because I can think of several reasons to be fearful of random interactions with other people. First, the other person may try to hurt or harm me, which is perpetuated in every way possible—especially among young women who find themselves vulnerable in certain situations. Second, maybe I don’t know what to say to other people and think it is awkward to talk to others. Third, I don’t want them to think I am hitting on them or have them think I am creepy for saying, “hello,” and so I choose to not engage.
The flip side of that coin is that every relationship you ever had, beside mom and dad and family, has started out as some sort of interaction, perhaps even awkward, between you and a stranger at the time…even if that other person was a peer. While there is always a threat level to consider, I think most environments that we put ourselves in are safe places to talk, acknowledge someone’s presence, and have some sort of kind interaction. Ironically, I find that the places where young people are the most social also tend to be the places of greatest risk, take for examples the bar or the club…both designed to heighten passions while dulling the senses in a usually dark environment and usually at the end of the day into the nighttime. But I know I’m a fuddy-duddy, middle-aged dad! Speaking of which, I have found the shift from “friendly” to “creepy” to be very interesting in that when I say hello to someone, I have been told that I was friendly and I have been told that my saying hello was creepy…and what I have discovered is that to be friendly in this interestingly disconnecting culture is to endure being possibly considered “creepy” because they are synonymous.
So, how can we save the world one creepy “Hello” at a time? Well, don’t buy into a culture that is increasingly connected through mediations while feeling increasingly alone. Connect to persons that you share space with and teach your kids to power down their devises and power up their conversations. We need to learn to listen to and to dialogue with others. Connection is not just a “Hello” but the insightful questions and conversation that happens afterwards as well. And perhaps the biggest thing I think each of us can do, smile and be friendly with folks. It communicates something about you…it communicates to the other their importance…it restores a connection in the human spirit that needs repaired.
I’m not even going to get started on handshakes, hugs, and fist-bumps…so practice as you see fit!
An expression of self-aggrandizement that makes sure a person knows that they don’t have the experience and expertise that we do and so our contributions matter more than theirs ever will.
Of all the warnings there are about human behavior in the biblical text, I would have to claim that the notion of arrogance, self-aggrandizement, and developing a superiority complex is one of the greatest threats to the mission and will of God. I mean, imagine with me for a second that God’s people actually think that they, and not God’s love for the world, are the real blessing. That they represent a morally superior way of life, and in so doing stop pointing to God as the giver of all good things, but begin pointing to themselves. Imagine that God’s people begin to segregate themselves, or close themselves off from the hurting, the lost, and the one’s who God was trying to bless through them. I mean, imagine a world where the sinner can no longer have access to God through the church and leaders of God’s people would not take the time to associate with sinners…
Unfortunately, we don’t have to imagine. It was the very thing that made Jesus angry as he watched the religious leaders of his time. It was this type of thinking that the Prophets spoke about as the people were exiled. It was this type of thinking that created slave labor and sex industry and we could compile a list so long that it would envelope human history and most of the major tragedies of the world. Even some done in the name of the Lord by sub-sections of Christians, which is devastating to the witness of Christ and the true desire of God.
And while we can look to the past and discern what has taken place there, it is with the present and the future that we should be most concerned. Where are our blind spots? How will our choices today impact the future and what will they claim about us? Especially if we are part of the church. Here are some attitudes of superiority that we need to banish in ourselves and in our church communities:
By definition, a racist is any person who feels that their race is superior to others and behaves through discrimination and prejudice against other people groups. In the United States, we often address this issue in terms of the ongoing relational dissonance between European Americans and African Americans, yet this is only one example of many that exist. I liken the idea of racial superiority to that of high school rivalries in which we are better than they are because we go to _________ high school and they go to _________ high school. While we may have a plethora of similarities and face the same issues, it is the attitude that fuels the competition and it is the behavior that builds walls instead of bridges. To argue that I am better because I am __________ (pick a color or trait)…wastes time, energy, and thought.
2. Mysogyny and Misandry
By definition, a Mysoginist is a male that feels unconfident and insecure, they are usually extremely angered at the fact they cannot get women to do what they want mostly can be known to be linked to paraphilia and are known to develop violent, harassing, or personal behavior to women which can mostly be physical if they get the chance to express themselves about the problem, lots of mysoginists also express themselves by being anti-social…On the other hand, misandists are defined by a hatred of, contempt for, or prejudice against men or boys. Misandry can manifest itself in numerous ways, including sexual discrimination, denigration of men, violence against men, sexual objectification of men, or more broadly, the hatred, fear, anger and contempt of men.
3. The Living Martyr:
The living martyr is a person who thinks they have given up so much for a cause, sacrificed and helped, but they have done so to a point where they forget who they are without the cause or affiliation fixed upon them. This is out of balance because in organizational systems, this person will be unwilling to allow others to do they’re jobs or fulfill their roles because it is a personal attack on the living martyr’s identity and purpose. You might be wondering how I can place this alongside racism and the mysteries up there, and it is because each one of these is based on a premise of arrogance that prohibits another or other people from their purposes. Just like one might their race a false premise, or their gender a false premise, a person can also make their contributions a false premise that blocks community and just like racism or sexism, can cause harm to relationships, organizations, and family systems.
4. The Controller:
Lastly, but not least is a way of being superior by simply being in control. Now, a controller is not a boss or someone hired to do a job. A controller is not an authority figure properly vetted and given a position in an organization or business. Much like the Faux Boss we talked about before, the controller is a person who tries to take charge even though he or she has not been properly given the position they seek. The difference between the Faux-Boss and the controller centers on the attitude that prompts their involvement. The faux-boss is operating under the guise of helping, the controller flat out thinks he or she is more equipped to lead than anyone else at the table of leadership, including the CEO or board of directors. Again, we think about arrogance and the controller is moved to take over because they are either the smartest person in the room or they are the best equipped person in the room to run the organization.
I am reminded of Paul’s letter to the Romans as we think about egos and arrogance and the superiority neurosis. He writes this to the church regarding their own desires to accomplish the work of the church without running over folks or making others feel unnecessary.
“12:3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
There are very few words that seem appropriate to remember, honor, and truly appreciate the work and life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I have been to the site of his murder several times in Memphis, TN. Looking out the window of his hotel room onto that balcony where his life was taken has been one of the more sobering moments of my life. King is remembered for championing the Civil Rights Movement, for dreaming dreams, and for being a leader in non-violent marches and protests. Yet, we forget that in his 39 years, he was hated, betrayed, and died a very controversial prophetic voice critiquing the American systems.
So often I listen to the news reporters talking about King’s life being cut short. I hear them talking about how much more he could have accomplished. Yet, I am also hesitant to make the same claims given all that he had been through, all that he endured, all the words spoken, the steps marched, the protests attended, the physical abuse of bricks, letter openers, and punches. King suffered bomb threats, assassination attempts, among other things. King challenged the notions that ethical ministers should not break the law and that good citizens should be peaceable and stay silent. Why would a minister be arrested? Why was it time to break silence for the common good? It was 39 years, but I bet it felt like 100 years. In fact, in his last speech he asserted that he was tired, but not fearful…he has seen the goal of the promised land but suspected he would not arrive with his people.
Today, 50 years ago on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN…a gift to American political and religious discourse, a leader of civil rights, Martin Luther King, Jr was shot and killed. That act did not end in death, because King’s legacy lives, his voice lives, his words live, his dream lives, and we are better for it. Interestingly enough, it took death to enshrine on America’s collective heart the true creativity and genius of a man and a movement overlooked and unfairly criticized by a power structure determined to succeed. While the struggle continues, and there is more work to do, we are grateful for the way King called America to a higher moral standard by combining the creeds of Christian thought and American political thought.
Listening to King’s speeches and studying his non-violent philosophy has been one of the most inspiring and influential parts of my academic life. I am indebted to King, and I thank him for his courage, strength, and truthfulness in the face of danger. If you are looking for something to read today…look at the Letter from a Birmingham Jail or perhaps read King’s eulogy for the four little girls killed at a church youth gathering. It may have only been 39 years, but it was long enough to make a difference in the lives of a nation…so King’s life was meaningful, useful, and full! Again, my words fail and fall short, but thank you Dr. King.
An attitude that belittles a person by asserting that there is no way this person can process, understand, or empathize with others due to factors of experience and cultural background among others.
Have you ever been in a situation or conversation where you left wondering if you were crazy? You perceived that the person talking to you either saw things in a completely different way than you did, or thought that you couldn’t ever possibly understand what they have experienced and their perspective on a situation. You leave the conversation knowing it didn’t go well, but you are unclear how to make it better…how it might have gone better…or what you have to offer the other person.
And in those moments where someone makes you feel or think like you have nothing to offer them, that is when you have fallen victim to the “capacity problem” because you have ran into someone who truly thinks you indeed have nothing to offer them, no perspective worth considering, and that the way this situation gets solved or this solution works is simply by taking what they have to offer you. You may think that relationships are meant to be a “give and take,” that conversations are a dialogue, and that solutions are best when shared input is solicited…but when you run into this group, that flies out the window!
Avoid being the Faux-Boss by making sure that newer people are welcomed into whatever group you have relational capital in. Ask others to share their opinions with you and listen to them, listen without trying to correct their views or defend something that you are personally invested in knowing that listening is more important than winning. And above all, support decisions and changes made by leaders as an influential member of a group, business, or organization even if you think differently because what I have experienced over my time in leadership is that no decision is “final and everlasting.” If you want to be a person who is respected by decision-makers, then you have to be a person who respects decision-makers.
Avoid being an Xpert by considering different perspectives and choosing to research not just the articles by scholars who agree with you, but read the ones who find faults in your concepts and reasoning. When meeting with others, bring your education and experience to bear but allow others to do likewise, knowing that each person has been invited to the table for a reason. Avoid Intellect type parenting by helping children problem solve instead of telling them what to do. If you want to be a person that other folks rely on for good information and wisdom, then be quicker to listen to multiple sources and slower to respond…I think James provides us with the idea…be quick to listen and slow to speak (1:19).
Who should look out for the Clique-keeper? I think those who try to personally invest in other people or groups where it could be seen as a threat to another person’s relationships and/or a threat to the emotional needs of that person. Often, those who cannot let new folks into a closed system suffer from their own emotional needs that are being met by the group. Therefore, if you work with people, like social services or human services; or if you trying to break into a new group, church, or even blended family…you might run into the clique-keeper.
Avoid being a clique-keeper by trusting that other people, even outside the group, or new to the family, have the ability and desire to feel what you feel and empathize with you. Avoid the skepticism of the “outsider” perspective, and understand that even the outsider can provide thoughtful insights into your group, business, family or friend group. One of the greatest gifts we can give to each other as humans is the gift of hospitality, and that is down when we open up our lives to others, let them in, and allow them to fully enter our space with their stuff (emotions, insights, perceptions, etc.) If you want to feel great about the relationships you have, continue to be open to new ones while fostering the lasting ones.
It is interesting to think about our relationship with God at this point because we truly have nothing to offer the creator and sustainer of our lives, yet God does not make us feel less than nor does he treat us as useless. On the contrary, God lavishes love and mercy upon us and accepts our sacrifices and offerings, regardless of how small, as beautiful worship. In Ephesians, Paul claims that God prides Himself in us as his Masterpieces, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared for us to do. You see, it is the exact opposite of God’s design and attitude to treat people as if they have nothing to offer, no perspective to give, and to dehumanize others in this way is to oppose God and truly be ungodly in our actions towards others. Let’s make sure that everyone we meet and treat knows that they have the capacity to provide insight, love, and meaning to us and others about whom we care.
Usually in a conflict in which there is disagreement with a person and some of their behaviors, We give ourselves permission to treat a person poorly because it is justified.
Disagreement happens, it is actually a natural thing that occurs in groups of all kinds. Individuals bring their experiences, talents, expertise, and weaknesses to all sorts of meetings, discussions, and gatherings. As a result, there are times when conflicting ideas arise, different directions are thrown out for consideration, or even different personalities are on display. Managing conflict is something that every relationship, community, business, and entity will have to face, but there is an easier route. There is a route that avoids new ideas, or different ones, and totally gives you the upper hand. I call it Permission, and it is an effective way to dehumanize someone with whom you have conflict, quickly gathering a group of supporters and silencing those who think differently than you. Here are four ways to dehumanize someone with Permission:
When we practice these permissions, we are so far away from the words of Jesus in Luke 6. He was teaching those who wanted to become like him through discipleship when he told them this:
27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
Now, let’s understand that we cannot take this post and this scripture out of context. I would never suggest that persons are to stay in abusive situations, after all this is a series on dehumanization and to bully, abuse, and mistreat people is in essence dehumanizing them. We want to engage folks and talk through disagreements, and using disagreements as permissions to dehumanize is what we are fighting here…nothing more. We want to reconcile relationship and treat people with deep respect. When we fail to do that, which I have, then we want to offer apology and continue to participate. When we can seek to “do good to those who hate us” and when we can “do to others as we would have them do to us” then we will move away from these permissions to be dehumanizing and start re-humanizing each other in authentic (yeah, I used that word) engagement!
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.