Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? The one… who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander and casts no slur on others; ….who keeps an oath even when it hurts, Psalm 15:1-4
“Civilization” has as its root word “civil” which comes from the Latin word civis or “civilized” in English. It is a “sense of human society in a civilized condition.” To be civil is to be polite and respectful, even if you disagree about an issue.
I have watched with dismay the breakdown of civil discourse in America. David’s Psalm above puts a strong emphasis on language needed in this day and time. It is David’s clarion call for civility.
Millennials are in the crosshairs on this. Their lack of reading hurts in many areas. They are headline readers from digital media. That means that they are poor students of history and don’t get into factual details or nuances.
They also are swayed by emotional appeals. Most make decisions based on emotions, not on facts, reasoning or logic. They have been educated for the past decades by a system that places a greater emphasis on feelings and self-esteem than critical thinking.
Human discourse, over time, has always had its ups and downs. Sadly, we are at one of those low points where headlines, epithets and name calling has crowded out real conversation. Democracy assumes that there is more than one viewpoint. That’s what makes horse races – no one assumes that everyone is going to pull for the same horse.
Human conflict is not new. Even in a family context, eventually you encounter a face-to-face conflict. But the question remains: Are there are boundaries to that conflict? If so, when are they crossed? Or, put another way, when does the conflict result in a confrontation that goes beyond the pale?
I would posit that recent uncivil discourse has crossed the line. Over time, people have attempted to dehumanize someone through language. As Brene Brown mentions in her research, “dehumanization always starts with language”.
Dehumanization is defined by Dr. Michelle Maiese as “the psychological process of demonizing the enemy, making them seem less than human and hence not worthy of humane treatment.”
As soon as one sees people on “the other side” of a conflict as morally inferior or even dangerous, the issue becomes one of good versus evil. Gee, does that sound familiar? That means that any language can be justified if the goal is to attack something one considers evil.
Eventually, the targeted group becomes morally excluded. They “fall out of the scope of who is naturally protected by our moral code” according to Bene Brown. During the Holocaust for example, Jews were treated as subhuman and referred to as disease-carrying rodents.
It started with language but then went much farther. The Nazis of the 1930’s and the Rwandan genocide of the 1990’s are instances in history where language started a downhill slide to persecution or genocide.
It may be difficult to believe that we would get to the point of excluding people from equal moral treatment. Unfortunately, as Brown note, we are biologically “hardwired to believe what we see and to attach meaning to the words we hear.”
Bottom line, we are all vulnerable to the process of dehumanizing.
We are on a slippery slope as a nation and a culture. In the past, differences were hammered out in the political arena, with both sides making their arguments on a given issue. Now, it is an all too familiar scene to see politicians and media check their brains at the door and resort to name calling and epithets.
Unless we recognize it and stop it. Sadly, social media platforms are a platform for dehumanizing behavior. We need some adult supervision here.
We have recently watched politicians in high positions advocating that members of the other party should be chased out of restaurants or other public places, and that, if they are white, then they are automatically racist.
That’s effectively mob rule. Where a small mob of Antifa activists can take over a city street in Portland and harass innocent bystanders with impunity. That’s not the America I grew up in.
The danger is that the younger generation watches all of this through the sound bites of social media. They perceive that it must be normal behavior just because it happens. They don’t know history or where dehumanizing can lead.
The challenge here is for leaders on both sides to step up and say this has gone too far. Unfortunately, visible politicians have checked their moral code at the door and done little to condemn bad conduct or dehumanizing language. It is an “ends justifies the means” approach. It is time to speak up on this issue because of the danger it poses to our society.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: As a mentor, you can provide valuable historical insights into what happens in cultures when dehumanization occurs. Language matters in today’s culture.
FURTHER STUDY: Brene Brown’s post on Dehumanization is an excellent perspective based on decades of research on the topic.
RESOURCES: Dr. Jolene Erlacher has recently published a book worth reading entitled “The Daniel Generation: Leadership in an Ungodly Culture” available at Amazon. This is her sequel to her book titled “Millennials in Ministry.”
WORSHIP: Listen to Natalie Grant sing Cleanwhich tells that there is nothing too dirty that God can’t make clean.
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