Do not dehumanize.
Are you finding yourself listening to someone who wants you to dehumanize any group of people? Are you obeying?
It was in grade school way back in the 1960’s that we learned that it was sloppy thinking, and wrong, to generalize. To assume that everyone who you perceive as belonging to some group is the same. If you’re swallowing any of the political water we swim in, if you are agreeing with your activists of choice, you are probably assuming a lot of bad things about huge communities of people, and about everyone on the “other” side.
You may be assuming that people you are supposed to love have thrown in with bad people and bad beliefs. You may not be checking with your loved ones to find out if they have; you may simply accept the word of public figures who don’t know you or your loved ones. You may be building a case which is not true. If you are wrong, then you have betrayed the people you’re supposed to care about and defend.
What if you are correct about your loved ones holding to beliefs you judge deplorable? How do you respond then? Let’s think about it.
Dehumanization is nothing to make light of. It is choosing to believe that everyone in an “other” category is less than— less than the best people, less than your tribe, less than you. Eventually you decide they are less than human.
It starts innocently, or does it? It starts with jokes! It starts with generalizing people into a group. Informing yourself about them using confirmation bias. Ridiculing them, then marginalizing them, then dismissing them, but alternately reserving the right to pull out those straw men to get angry at. Then you’re alright with disenfranchising them, excluding them, and eventually you’re alright with killing them, or seeing them killed.
Soft and harmless dehumanization is the seed of all atrocities and genocides. At the very beginning, it is hate. We cannot claim we have blind eyes to turn.
How do we avoid dehumanizing?
I must see each person as an individual, look them in the face and agree that they are as relevant, as valuable, as unique, as I am. That doesn’t mean accepting without discernment everything they do or say. It means I look past stuff which actually is not my business and value the person.
My job is to treat them fairly, as I would want to be treated. Really, my job is to love them. As they are, with their shortcomings, and with sympathy, since I’m not holy either. I can recognize that someone’s sins are objectively awful but that I am not the reconciler of all things.
As a follower of Christ, I should see a triangle here. As I stand in spirit facing another person, I am at one lower angle or corner of the triangle, the other person stands at the other lower corner, and God is at the top corner. I am on equal ground with any other person and God is the one we each need to be reconciled to. I cannot travel the other person’s upward angled relationship to God and he cannot travel mine. That person has no burden to to prove himself human to me, and I have no authority to to give or withhold the status of humanity from him.
That person is flawed just as I am, but he is an image bearer of God. God loves him so I must orient my valuing of him accordingly. He is a unique creation. We are both of immense worth.
We each must work out our relationship with God; every single human being has one. Although we might see each other’s faults, we can only exhort and encourage, advise and support. I can share with them, I can hope for them, and I can pray for them. I cannot judge, condemn, or execute consequences; I have no right to do so.
People deserve to be seen as individuals, on a personal level. As humans, as images of God.