Katie’s Musings: Resolution
January 13 2018
This year, I am making one resolution. Just one. I am resolved to banish limiting language from my vocabulary.
This fall, I’ve been profoundly impacted by the book Braving the Wilderness, by Brené Brown. One of the main points in the book is about the weaponization of belonging, the us versus them, the reduction of another person’s humanity due to some group to which they belong.
Using limiting language is often the easiest way to “win” a discussion. Someone does something we don’t like, and rather than engage with the fullness of their humanity, we decide that their group of belonging is to blame, and moreover, is all that matters about them. Them. Other. Not my group, so therefore invalid. It’s super unfair, and we’re all guilty of it, and I’m pretty sure this kind of rhetoric might actually be the greatest threat to our existence today.
It’s not entirely our fault. Historically, limiting labels have been very useful tools to keep us safe. Example: children are taught very early on that a stove could very well be hot and dangerous, and therefore children should stay away from them in general to keep them safe. This is actually a useful application of belonging. It’s how our species has survived thus far.
The problem comes when you thrust humanity into the equation. People tend to to have a lot more variables than stoves. Upbringing, health issues, family of origin, gender, sexual orientation, resources, world view, etc., all make the business of understanding people way more messy than any narrow definition of worthiness could possibly cover.
A person is not illegal. They may be undocumented, but their human existence is not illegal. A person is not the left or the right. They may hold varying political notions, but they are not completely defined by those notions. The problem is that any type of unification is way easier when there’s a common enemy to be scared of. It’s the oldest trick in the book, and it’s everywhere. Limiting language may mean that I win an argument or two, but it also means that in order to do so, dehumanization has taken place.
The good news is that there’s another way.
I think some of the most powerful moments in the Bible are the moments when Jesus chose to sit at dinner tables with people he knew didn’t agree with him and just talk with them. Get to know them. Not to convert them, really, but to understand them. I can’t be positive, but I think it might have been because he understood that it’s really hard to hate someone you actually understand. That it’s really difficult to dismiss a person as worthless when you’ve gotten to know them a bit. That *insert a specific fear of the other here* is just code for, “I have no interest in taking the time to understand THOSE people.” That people are worth way more than simply their group of belonging or country/state/city of origin or race or immigration status or marital status or wealth or criminal record or whatever. The story of Jesus’s life and death and resurrection is way more powerful when the fullness of his humanity and the humanity around him comes into the equation. He knew the width and breadth of human existence, and he chose his path, not in spite of it, but because of it. Because he believed that, in spite of all that divisive talk, there is no them. There is only us. And we are, individually and collectively, worth it.
So this 2018, I’m banishing limiting language from my vocabulary. It’ll be difficult. But I think I have to agree with that great teacher and minister and redeemer of old on this one: we are worth the effort.