I have recently become aware of a nefarious attitude that pervades our society. It may seem innocent, but in its most extreme use, is deadly. What could I possibly be talking about? I noticed it while I was listening to sports talk radio. Quite often the commentators would talk about constructing teams with “pieces” rather than “players.” Hold up, you may say. What is so “nefarious” about that and why would that bother me?
That description of players who are people, as pieces, is a process of dehumanization that I find extremely troubling. In sports media, callers and commentators casually speak about moving this “piece” for that one like they are objects on a chess board, rather than human beings with feelings and families. I wonder sometimes if people even think about these athletes as humans who might actually have feelings.
What is the big deal you may ask? Well let’s take a historical view of this same issue and go back to the first story in human history. Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden when they eat some forbidden fruit and what does Adam say to God when he is confronted with his sin? “That woman you gave me made me do it!” From the beginning it has been part of our human nature to transform humans into objects. Notice Adam didn’t say “my partner tempted me.” He engaged in the process of robbing Eve of her human-ess by saying: “that woman.” Often in my work with men in relationship drama, I notice that same kind of description. “The wife” or “the girlfriend” are terms often used to describe a person that is relationally distant and perhaps spoken of as an object, rather than a human.
Why does this does this continue to happen? I think it is a defence mechanism. It is also convenient. Adam shifted the blame very quickly when he chose to view Eve as an object that was the source of his difficulty. Men that talk about “the wife” have often been emotionally hurt and wish to protect themselves from further affliction in the future. Speaking about their partner as an object makes it easier to cut them off emotionally, because giving them their full human identity forces them to confront the lack of emotional connection.
Controversially, the most extreme case of this is abortion. People who believe in the “pro-choice” stance must make the move towards dehumanization of the fetus. You certainly will not hear them include the value of the life of the fetus living within the mother in their argument. On the other hand, “pro-life” advocates will contend that the fetus is a human with value and deserving or respectful treatment. Dehumanization and humanization is of central importance to each argument.
What is the solution? Well I would contend that all life has value and deserves respectful treatment. Regardless of age, people are not objects that can be discarded when they are deemed unwanted or inconvenient. In men’s groups I consistently encourage men to think and speak about their partners as people, with names and value. Calling her “the wife” just doesn’t cut it. They have a name and it should be used because that connotes value and connection.
For a moment consider a young child that grows up being called “my kid.” The lack of human identity in this title will only reinforce over and over again how little value they have. Instead if the child is referred to by name and described as having value and importance they are far more likely to live out a life that reflects that reality. You get what you invest. Calling your wife by her name signals closeness and intimacy which draws a person closer. Calling her “the wife” does exactly the opposite. Calling an unborn baby a fetus in some ways robs the baby of its human identity, while referring to the unborn fetus as a child bequeaths human value.
No matter where you stand on these issues, I would at the very least challenge you to consider how you view others. Perhaps if you did make the intentional shift to viewing all people as humans with value, your treatment and responses would be more measured and respectful which could go a long way towards making our world a better place to live.