A couple of weeks ago, I received an email in which I was called a gross, disgusting name. I deleted the email almost immediately, but something like that doesn’t delete from your mind very quickly. Or ever, I expect.
It was awful because I ceased to feel like a person in that moment, instead I was just a body part. I wasn’t someone who had feelings that could be hurt by name-calling, I was a symbol of something that had hurt this person in the past and I became an easy target for that anger.
On reflection, I can recognize this. I can see that this person also had scars. They had been wounded and they were responding out of that painful emotion.
But that day I just felt terrible, and when I told my husband about it, I said, “Some people are just assholes.”
With that statement, I did the exact same thing that they did to me.
I spoke out of anger and hurt and reduced them to an unflattering body part. I didn’t think about the whole of them, I just looked at one action and judged them as bad. Unworthy of my respect. Less than. “Just.”
I hate when I see any of my friends stuck receiving piles of negative feedback, particularly when I believe that it is undeserved. It’s easy to rush to their defense and suggest that the people who are pushing back are “just haters” or “just d-bags” or “just jerks” or “just bullies.”
There may be a small element of truth in that. Some of the behavior is bad. It is hurtful and hateful and bullying. Sometimes it comes from people whose words have a lot of clout. It comes from influential ministers in the church. It comes from bloggers with large platforms. It comes from people who should know better.
Often times it comes at the expense of someone who is not in a position of power or privilege. The push-back can be against someone who has a minority status or who is being a voice with those who are in an oppressed group. Someone who is speaking for people who have limited ability to speak for themselves. People step up to defend those who are dehumanized and end up on the receiving end of that same behavior.
We are not obligated to sit idly by when someone treats others as less that human. It is absolutely appropriate to address hurtful behavior. It’s okay to express pain when someone’s behavior affects you. Acknowledging our wounds is one of the first ways that we can begin to heal from them. We don’t have to be friends with people who habitually hurt others or who regularly engage in destructive behavior.
But when I look at those who do the dehumanizing and I turn and do the same thing right back to them, I am not making things better for those who are marginalized or for me. Creating a system where more people become a “just” reinforces the idea that people aren’t holistic beings.
I am not “just” the name that I was called. The person who wrote that is not “just” the name that I called them in return. When I remember that something as simple as the Golden Rule applies to people who I like as well as people who I don’t like as much, I help break the cycle of dehumanizing behavior.
I help all of us become more than “just.”