Thursday, July 1, 2010
Sticks and Stones Will Break My Bones... Words, Dehumanization and Dignity -
One of those conversations was during our first parish book club discussion. We had read, Left to Tell by Immaculee Ilibagiza. If you have not read this remarkable story of the Rawandan holocaust and the world of reconciliation ardently pursued by Ilibagiza, I highly recommend it.
During this beyond-horrible era of genocide in Rawanda, the two native peoples of that country were at odds. The Hutu people began to viciously slaughter the Tutsi; people; in about 100 days, 800,000 people were slaughtered brutally.
The reason that I bring this up is this - during the book discussion, we talked about how the Tustis were called "cockroaches" and so forth, by the Hutus.
There is a long history of name calling. In Jesus' time to be called "tax collector" was to be called defiled, unclean. To be identified as a "Samaritan" was to be considered unworthy; it was extremely negative.
Over the course of history, negative name calling has been used quite successfully. In our own recent history (and sadly re-emergent) the notion of "red menance" existed and has now morphed into "socialism." Suddenly a descriptor has all the power of a dirty word! We now have a very present belief that giving health care to people who don't work or sharing our resources is "creeping socialism." Can people be serious?
My friend Susan reminded us during the book club, that we are desensitized by books, songs and movies - all elements of popular culture. There is much truth to this... I should know, once a frequent dropper of f-bombs myself. I still do it. (And Susan heard me on Monday during another meeting.) I have stopped talking like that - or tried to - for a number of reasons... I have a child now, I live in a different community where that is not as accepted are but two examples. How about the biggest reason - it just is not right!
What other words do we use with such abandon? In addition to "socialist," I think that words like conservative, liberal, orthodox, progressive, Democrat and Republican, just to name a few, are all seen as purely negative by many. And ALL sides of the discussion tend to do this, not just the "other."
In the Roman Catholic Church we especially hear about "liberal versus progressive" and the debate is further reframed in terms of social justice. There is also a lot of sneering between "post-Vatican II" Catholics and those who would appear more inclined to a "pre-Vatican II" church. Let's not forget the "post-Vatican II priests" versus the newer generation of "JPII priests." It exhausts me just to think about this! (Reminder to my co-religionists, Catholic does mean universal.)
Then there are those who are self-defined as "ardently pro-life" versus those who are "pro-abortion" or at the very least "soft on abortion." What are we talking about here? These conversations drive me particularly mad because they rarely further the cause of life for those who are dedicated to it.
In cultural life, we hear the term "that's so gay," flying around. I recently took someone to task for using it. A conversation about not bowing to political correctness ensued. I ultimately asked if not bowing to political correctness was a reason to not teach your children (your Catholic children in this case) about basic human dignity and justice? Is it ok to mock gay people if you are not being specific about who it is? Would this same (very good and well-intentioned) person say "I jewed him down" with the same ease and offer up the PC argument?
And what might be the most inflammatory use of words in our time and one I take extreme exception to... "Illegal aliens." Say those two words very slowly and out loud to yourself and try to not let the words about laws and so forth come flying up out of you.
Not bowing to political correctness, is it not possible as a culture to start to retrain ourselves to use the words, "undocumented persons" or "undocumented workers?" This is not about some kumbayah-hand-holding but rather about the essence that each person is a human being, deserving of some basic respect. I note that we are much kinder to corporations that break the law and the attendant executives than we are to the people who occupy the lowest rungs of society. What does this say about us as a people?
There is not enough time to explore this more fully today, but I will say this... When we name call, we dehumanize. When we dehumanize we are violent. When we are violent we hurt, we ultimately kill.
All groups do this. I watch it unfold on my Facebook page almost daily. I see myself (cringe cringe cringe) do it all the time without meaning to, although I have made great efforts to change. Many of my friends on the left consequently think that I have gone too far to the right... and my friends on the right consider me a hopeless leftist.
Being in community - whatever community means, a church, neighborhood, group of friends and of course, family - means that we must help guide and correct one another. We must do this with the same dignity and love that is called for in all human situations.
It does cause me to wonder what the power of words would unfurl if we could simply start using better language not to be polite or politically correct, but to be clear and honest and to act with dignity.
Is this possible?