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While traveling in South Africa–we learned about the history and present day effects of apartheid. Throughout our trip, we had the chance to hear the story and philosophy of apartheid, how it began and why it persisted for decades. As many of you know, I am fascinated by stories in general, and the story of apartheid is a complex story full of victims and heroes on both sides.
What struck me most about the stories was how easy it is to turn people into the ‘other’. Once we ‘otherize’ a person it is far easier to hurt them and ridicule them. Even hearing the story of apartheid it was my temptation to turn the people that started the system into criminals–then I realized they had a story too. Yes, what that group (the Afrikaners) did was atrocious and hate-filled, yet they had a story behind why they did it. They felt like victims in their own right. They felt like it was “God’s will” for them to be superior. I am in NO WAY approving, or justifying what that group did but I do think it is important to understand WHY they did what they did so we can prevent it in the future.
On a smaller level, in our, every day lives we ‘otherize’ all the time–with someone we have a conflict with, someone who is different from us or has a different viewpoint from us. We hear a story, and we make a judgment. If we the goal is to be intentional in our lives than we have to be aware of the temptation to ‘otherize’– to view people with curiosity and validation. Yes, there is evil in the world, but there is also a story behind that evil. A reason behind why someone feels justified to say or do something cruel or hateful. It is my intention rather than to jump into judgment and label someone to ‘view their humanity’ and have curiosity around their actions or viewpoint. To understand where they are coming from rather than immediately thinking they are wrong.
Peacebuilding starts with validating the humanity of the other person. Such a sweet statement–validating your humanity. So in small ways, we can start doing that. First with ourselves and then with the people we see in a day. The guy who cuts us off in traffic, the sales clerk who is a little rude, the co-worker who annoys us. Instead of ‘otherizing’ and sitting in judgment about them think of their humanity! Maybe the guy just heard his wife was in the hospital, or maybe the clerk has just worked a 15 hour day, and your co-worker was up all night with a crying baby. Have some curiosity around their humanity. (Ok so at least honk your horn and THEN think of his humanity.)