Dehumanizing – A Handy Tool

We all do it.  You do it, I do it, your Mom does it, your grandparents did it, your teachers do it, your friends and neighbor do it.  Even your pastor/minister does it (or maybe not).

No, not THAT silly!

I’m referring to treating intelligent, talented, reasonable people like they’re nothing more than an object, here solely to service our needs and desires.

…..Oh yes we do.

If you get upset or feel victimized because you believe someone SHOULD be listening to you, caring for you, attending to you, doing their job, helping you, giving something to you, treating you a certain way, then you are doing it.

If you get angry or annoyed because you believe someone should STOP doing something to you or doing something that prevents you from doing what you want, or if they slow you down, pressure you, make you feel unhappy or unsatisfied, then you are doing it too.

You are also doing it if you think someone else should look or behave a certain way to benefit, gratify, or entertain you.

In each scenario, you are treating someone only in terms of how they impact you.

I did it this week because someone wasn’t giving me what I paid for and therefore deserved.  It went from a business relationship to objectification when I become frustrated and treat them like an obstacle, rather than a person.

I do it whenever I get frustrated because someone is driving too slowly in front of me or blocking the sidewalk/aisle.  They’re not people who are lost, distracted or excited about visiting a friend, they are merely slowing me down.

I do it whenever I observe someone not doing his job, and I believe that his neglect would affect me.  He isn’t a person who is doing what he believes is right in some capacity, he becomes a self-serving, power-grabbing politician that is “ruining our country.”

In those moments, I think of these people as obstacles, not humans with dreams, fears, needs and desires of their own.  It doesn’t matter whether I am “right” or “wrong,” there is a period of time where I stop thinking of them as real people.  I objectify them.  I only view them relative to how their behavior impacts me.

Objectifying another driver or customer service person from the safe distance of my car or telephone is obnoxious, yes.  But aside from the bad karma I’m generating, the impact is fairly minimal.

But what happens if I objectify a family member, friend, or co-worker?  First, by routinely objectifying another, it is difficult, if not impossible to have anything but a superficial relationship with them.  If I cannot see their humanity, I can never really know them for who they really are, nor am I likely to share with them who I really am.  Second, if I believe that someone’s only value to me is what they do/don’t do for me, and then they fail to meet my expectations, I will lock us into a power struggle focused on getting them to give me what I think I deserve or need.  Their raison d’être is not to fulfill my expectations or needs.

In the moment, I may not even realize I’ve mentally diminished someone else’s humanity.  When I feel locked into a power struggle or conflict that has fallen into a stalemate, it’s an opportunity to become a fly on my mental wall and evaluate my stance.  If I consider what that person’s likely goals, dreams, and desires are, and I find that I soften my feelings of antagonism toward them, then I have been stuck in dehumanization mode.  In dehumanizing others, I’m giving away a piece of my own humanity.

So – drive slowly in front of me, block the aisle or sidewalk. Take me to a store with bad service.  It’s an opportunity for me to practice being patient, present and compassionate, and improve the karma in my corner of the world for a change.

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