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Those people

A different take on "Those People," from Zazzle.comIt occurs to me that the mass shootings that have made such headlines lately are extreme instances of a common practice that we would do well to think about: the ease with which we label people who differ, thus turning them into objects and something less than ourselves.

The three gunmen who shot up a Bible study in Okene, Nigeria on Sunday, killing 19 worshipers, were feeling serious animosity toward "those Christians ..."  The white supremacist who desecrated a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin with the blood of its members, killing at least six, may have been confused about his victims' identities -- but whether he was thinking of Sikhs or Muslims or just dark-skinned people who dress differently, no doubt he often prefaced his hateful thoughts with "those ..." Who knows what the Joker wannabe who massacred innocent movie-goers in Aurora, Colorado was thinking? Somewhere in his mind, I'm sure, was "those people ..."

We often hear or read stories about hate crimes, and at the root of the hatred is the notion that "those gays," "those blacks," or "those Mexicans" are somehow different or less than we are. Using labels allows us to objectify other people and, in doing so, to dehumanize them. It is this that allows someone the mental gymnastics to think that killing or hurting "those people" is OK.

And it's easy for us to condemn "those nuts" who commit such atrocities.

But I wonder ... how often do we employ the same mindset, albeit without the violence? Within the faith community, we may think far less than charitable thoughts about "those fundamentalists," "those liberals," "those Calvinists," or "those emergents." In this election season, do we speak disparagingly of "those Democrats," "those Republicans," or "that Tea Party crowd"?

We may have no intention of harming other groups that we label so easily -- but neither are we likely to give much effort to understanding them.

And if we're unwilling to try understanding other people's situations, we're also far less likely to show them kindness.

It's hard to "love your neighbor as yourselves" while also giving "those people" the cold shoulder.

Reader Comments (1)

Understanding is a worthy objective unless and until it devolves into condoning either the act or the mindset that caused it. When the hostages were taken by the Iranians in 1979, Bill Moyers devoted two PBS programs to a then-professor at a California college/university named Mansour Farhang for the purpose of Farhang’s helping Americans understand the Iranians. It smacked of an apologetic for their action, especially as it originated with Moyers. There was no rationale for that action, no matter how much Khomeini hated the U.S. or the Shah. These were innocent people just doing their jobs and posed a threat to no one. Likewise, there is no understanding possible of the recent shooters, either nutcases or just plain mean. Trying to understand them is like trying to understand the drunk drivers that kill thousands every year. Waste of time! Incidentally, Farhang then went to Iran to take an important post in the government, fell out of favor and barely escaped with his life. Last I noticed, he was teaching in Vermont.

Aug 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJim Clark

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