Blog & Podcast

Validating Their Humanity

A year ago this month I returned from a once in a lifetime trip to South Africa.  I traveled with a group of college students and we studied the effects of Apartheid. We learned about conflict and peace.  We learned how to build peace in an area that had the ultimate conflict–hate and oppression because of the color of ones’ skin.  Last year upon my return I wrote this blog post on The Other and I wanted to post it again as a reminder of how easy it is to get stuck in the Other.
The Other
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 story 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 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 view point from us.  We hear a story and we make a judgment.  If the goal is to be intentional in our lives than we have to be aware of the temptation to ‘otherize’.  We need 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.
Peace building starts with validating the humanity of the other person.  Such a sweet statement, validating their humanity.  Meaning, even when we are around someone who we can’t stand, someone we have conflict with, who is toxic or hurtful, we can always just validate that they too are human.  They too are struggling with life and figuring it all out even though it may not look like that on the surface.  During our trip we were preparing to meet a man who was active in the Dutch Reform Church, which was the foundation of the apartheid movement.  Before we met him, our guide who embodies peace building turned to us and said your temptation will be to judge and ridicule this man but I want you to look him in the eye and simply validate his humanity.   Judging him doesn’t make the situation any better in fact it is treating him the same way he treated others.  It was a powerful moment for me.
In small ways we can start validating our humanity first with ourselves in our day to day struggles and challenges.  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 judgement of 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, or your co-worker was up all night with a crying baby.  Having curiosity around their humanity allows us to let go of the negativity, the judgment and the pain.  It allows us to start building a more peaceful world which helps us Live Happier.
So today when someone does something that hurts you or challenges you rather then fire back in anger, breathe in and out , remind yourself there is probably a story behind their pain and validate their humanity.  I promise it will change your perspective.