It is a fight to grasp onto *just enough* humility to see other people as equals.
I spend so much time in my own little world, obsessing about the rotation and atmospheric conditions. I never realized how insidious pride is, constantly working to keep my little planet from coming in contact with anyone else’s.
It is so easy to see anyone who is not like me as simply better or worse.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned about affirming the humanity in people is that I have to see them as equals. No matter what their life looks like or how society would classify them. Equals right now, as their life currently is. Otherwise I tend to idolize them or treat them with condescension, and condescending feels the easiest and most damaging.
If I don’t see you as my equal, I will assume you just aren’t as smart, or obviously don’t have a good work ethic, aren’t using those bootstraps like you should, don’t care about your health or your kids.
If I don’t see you as my equal, I will assume you chose your lot in life, chose to stay in that lot. Of course you aren’t as good as me, otherwise you would choose to be like me.
I’m the center of my world, so of course my thoughts, beliefs, decisions are, for the most part, correct! My worldview is what it is because of the world I inhabit. So if I am wrong, then my planet is knocked off its axis, and how will anything make sense?
It is so easy to judge the entire galaxy by the standards of our own little spinning worlds.
When we do not see the humanity embedded in other people, we treat them as asteroids or meteors, dangers to our worlds, instead of seeing them as beautiful planets to be admired and explored.
And the best part is, if I don’t see you as something special, something just like me, then I don’t have to treat you as myself. I don’t have to care about your feelings. Because those don’t matter when they run up against the Facts, the Rules for good and evil.
When our planets are designed to be pure and holy, undefiled, set apart, to be in but not of, then of course we must keep separate from every other person who is wrong, who is tainted.
If I don’t see you, as you currently are, as my equal, I won’t think you are worth knowing or loving. And of course, if I don’t see you as equal, I don’t see the same frailties, the same weaknesses and darkness in myself. If we’re not equal, it’s so easy to play the plank and speck game.
But affirming the humanity of everyone means I need to see you as someone who is valuable right now. Who has something to teach me, has life to offer me. Affirming your worth, no matter how different we are, reminds me that there are over 6 billion of us.
It is the height of arrogance to assume my worldview is the only valid one. It is an exercise in cruelty to reject anyone who is not like me, who does not agree with me.
Affirming the humanity is affirming your thoughts, opinions, experiences, beliefs, as they are, with no input from me. Who am I to think I have to validate your life? That you have to prove to me that your opinion is worth having, worth listening to? Affirming the humanity means not ignoring you just because I don’t understand.
Recognizing the image of God in people is recognizing all the ways in which our culture tries to erase it. It is holding eyes open to systemic issues like race, economics, education. It is turning inward to see how we are complicit in them, examining the worlds we were given.
Affirming the humanity is about seeing people as equal images of God, just like me.
And the best way I can think of to break the hold that pride in ourselves has, is putting ourselves in places where we are a minority.
If we are only surrounded by like-minded people, it reinforces the ‘world revolves around me’ perception and we end up with a solar system full of cloned worlds.
Where is the beauty in that?
Part of this conversation is about lifestyle change, and although this feels like the joke about wearing a humble pin, I have made some choices that have knocked me out of my world, so I wanted to mention them. Some of them I’ve written about before:
The one other thing (that I think I’ve written about but can’t find), was my short time with a local branch of Welcoming America. I realized that I lived in an area with a lot of Hispanic migrant workers, and yet I didn’t really know any. Through that I took an immigration law training and, um, holy shit. That stuff is messed up. It was horrible to sit there and learn about policies I had previously supported, to see how freaking complicated it all is (did you know the government expect undocumented immigrants* to pay taxes???) and to look at the faces of people who lived in fear and yet who I relied on for my food.
I also learned that they really do work in the fields all the time. We were trying to create events for the migrants and the rest of the community to meet and hang out, but the migrants worked all the time. The only day they had off was if it rained on a Sunday, and that’s when they’d do their grocery shopping.
Shortly after that, I had to go grocery shopping and I was grumbling because it was pouring and that’s such a pain. I’m going through the store and realize there are a lot more Hispanics in there than usual, and I was wondering why and then it dawned on me that it was a Sunday.
It’s hard to describe what coming face to face with your privilege is like.
Affirming the humanity can be intensely uncomfortable and incredibly awkward. But people are worth it. People are worth my discomfort, they are worth me examining my life and working to change it.
People are worth being affirmed.
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*I just learned something – it’s offensive to call undocumented immigrants ‘illegals’, which makes sense. Check out more at Drop the I-Word.