Photo By Tegan Mierle

It is so much easier to label someone than to enter in with them as person. Life is simpler if we look at someone and say, “Conservative”, “Liberal”, “Republican”, “Democrat”, and so on. However, when we apply these labels we do two things.

First, we distance ourselves from them as people. We are saying, “You’re this or that and I’m not.” This distance gives us permission to caricature, to mock, to be unloving without seeing the consequences. When there’s distance we are able to ignore the response of the individual. By creating this distance we are able to only see them as a group and not as individuals.

This is the second, even more insidious problem, with categorizing or labeling people; it is this, we remove their person-hood. When someone becomes a “Millenial” or a “Protester” or a “Conservative” or a “Liberal” in our minds they cease to be a person. They stop being “John” or “Sara” or “Corinne” or “Joe.” The moment we replace their person-hood in our minds we lose the need for compassion and empathy.

Not only that, but I would argue we lose the ability for compassion and empathy. We don’t feel compassion and empathy for objects. Compassion and empathy are for us to extend to other people. When we remove someone’s person-hood they become a thing. Things don’t have feelings, emotions, or soul so they don’t need compassion, they don’t need empathy.

I can’t help but have the scene from A Few Good Men running through my mind where Weinberg and Kaffee are prepping Downey for trial. Downey keeps referring to the victim of the crime that he’s charged with as, “Willie.” Weinberg tells him he needs to call him, “Private Santiago.” Kaffee interjects, “Yeah, because if he’s Willie then he has friends and a mother who will miss him.”

Kaffee and Weinberg knew that as the defense attorneys they needed to de-humanize the victim, PFC William T. Santiago, or they would have no chance at winning. Why? Because, if he was a real person then the jury would have compassion and empathy and would likely decide to convict.

What’s the alternative? The alternative is to listen and learn to people as individuals. When we do this we enter in with them as humans, as persons.

It’s so easy to hate a group of people. It’s really hard to hate a person. I was having a conversation with a friend who was very happy about the results of the current election. He asked me my opinion. I told I have grave concerns about the election results. He was shocked and asked why. The reasons are many, but I decided to tell him the story of my neighbor who is immigrating from Mexico. He met and fell in love with the woman of his dreams while she was studying abroad in Mexico and they recently got married and he moved to the United States. He’s now deeply worried that he will be deported. He’s a newlywed with an amazing bride. They are making a home for themselves. Yet, every day he now lives with fear in the back of his mind. My friend’s initial response was, “That’s foolish, he’s here legally, that’s not who the President-elect wants to get rid of.” As we talked more, I realized that he didn’t see my neighbor as a person. He saw him as part of a group of people who were “stupid and silly.”

I had a conversation with another friend who was distraught over the election. She was asking how anyone could possibly vote for a demagogue like the President-elect. In her mind, all “those people” are racist, misogynist, bigots. I told her the story of my friend who is a police officer. Every single day he leaves his family to put his life in danger. He never knows if he will come back. As police ambushes continue to grow in frequency he grew more and more worried and fearful that he would not come home. He has an amazing wife and kids. Yet every day he lives with this fear in the back of his mind. He believed that he would have a better chance of coming home at the end of his shift if the, now, President-elect won the election. Her response, “That’s foolish. He’s the real problem anyway.” As we talked more, I realized that she didn’t see my friend as a person. She saw him as part of a group of people who were “racist and evil.”

Objects don’t have stories. Things are just that, things. Things are easily disposed of when they no longer meet our needs or when we determine they are broken.

People on the other hand have stories. They have friends and mothers who love them. A person is hard to hate when you enter in long enough to get to know their story. What happens is that you discover you have compassion and empathy for them.

In 1 Corinthians 12, the apostle Paul writes,

But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.

The body of Christ is this amazing blend of unity in diversity. The Christian is part of something bigger than themselves, a group, but also retain their individuality. The beauty of this is that there is no loss of person-hood but it is enhanced. All suffer together and all rejoice together. As one goes, so goes all.

May we set aside the labels and the categories. May we move toward one another as people, real people, people with stories and friends and mothers.

A Person, Not A Thing was originally published in The Subversive Journey on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

from The Subversive Journey—-bbc765b79ec5—4