It 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.