Monday, November 16, 2015

Charity or Murder: Both Result from Dehumanization

The recent attacks in Paris have caused important discussions and some horrific responses. I know that it is human nature to seek revenge; for the attacked to attack their attacker. This starts from our survival instinct, but soon goes too far. Because of these murders more liberties will be taken from all of us, more civilians will be killed in Syria, more hate talk against various groups will go unchecked.

Leaders of organizations big and small face this swinging pendulum of hate more often than we like to admit. Sometimes factions form within our organization, pitting people who were once friends against each other. Other times we must turn all our resources toward stopping different groups from harming each other. I even found this in the animal rights movement, a movement not even focused on humans, as overzealous activists claimed that people who harmed animals should be harmed in the same way or even killed.

I watch the reactions to the Paris attacks with mixed feelings. Of course it’s good for people to stand up against hate. But do we realize how close we are to hating the haters?

There is an effective response, but it requires perspective, an understanding of dehumanization, and the calming of our initial reaction. I cover this response method in Chapter 3 of Cures for Ailing Organizations because unless we stop such inappropriate behavior at its very beginning, there’s no point solving the easier problems. Surprisingly, this response not only undermines hate, but charity.

The seeds of hate are planted in the same way as the seeds of charity – by making the hater or the charity giver a better being than their target. This is dehumanization.

Sometimes large charity organizations become larger than their cause needs them to be or can support. This inertia and desperation to survive at their current level helps their leaders to justify messages and images that show their constituents as helpless and unable to care for themselves – starving, flies crawling on them, dependent on the organization. This draws people longing to help without having to put in the work to understand the true situation. They ignore the fact that every human has skills, experience, and value to contribute, not only to their own well-being but the causes touted by organizations. This occurs within cities and towns where the well-to-do answer charity pleas as they imagine their assistance going to people lesser than themselves. And it occurs across oceans as developing countries have been flooded by free goods that destroy local businesses and the economies that would lift them from poverty.

What’s wrong with this sort of giving if it is well intended? Everything. The separation. The promotion of some people as helpless. The call to other people that makes them better than those presented as helpless, deficient, wretched. The destruction of the systems that would nurture sustainably and enable struggling people to tap their skills and talents to help themselves.

If your organization is derailing into such destructive charity practices, start changing it back into one that sees your constituents as the same as all of you and find ways for them to contribute to your programs rather than just receiving charity.

Okay, so charity mindsets cause harm, you might say, but at least they are well intended; no correlation to murder. I have to argue otherwise. To help someone because you believe them to be inferior to you is no better than harming them for that reason. Your charity may get them through that day or even a year, but it will establish them in that place of helplessness you intended to help them out of.

People in African countries are some of the hardest hit by this as rampant charity has undermined their locally owned businesses and encouraged them to choose the endless charity handouts over the pursuit of their dreams of self-reliance. Simply understanding that every human needs the dignity of caring for themselves would stop this destructive charity flood. Our hands would pause before dropping a coin into a hat without making eye contact and talking with that person. We’d think twice about sending a check or bag of used clothes to people we will never meet.

This “lesserness,” this diminishing other humans to an inferior level not only inspires charity, but harm. Yes, some murderers are psychopaths. But we can’t make this sweeping claim of murderers like those in Paris who were following the doctrine of their organization. They killed 129. The world is in an uproar.

As people worldwide cry out for change to stop “terrorists” after Friday’s killings, many other murders go unnoticed. This year in the U.S., 2,000 people will die from gang violence, just as 2,000 died last year, and the year before, and the year before that. Also in the U.S., each year there are over 200,000 victims of hate crimes, many fatal. No worldwide uproar. No cries against terrorists and other perceived enemies. Could it be that in these cases we have placed both the murderers and their victims below us, so inferior that they don’t even deserve a place in the news? Why are the Parisians more like us than the victims of gang or hate crimes?

The response to dehumanization is simple: Recognize it and stop it. As soon as anyone sets another person out as inferior, stop it. As soon as we realize we have dehumanized another person, go to that person and apologize; treat them with dignity. Yes, punish murderers. But the response starts far before that by preventing dehumanization that encourages murder.

This is an uncomfortable topic because it forces us to question our own judgment, our initial reaction, our “gut,” which we so like to trust. I’ve had to study this because I encounter dehumanization so often through my work at One Street. Usually I uncover it while consulting with leaders of an organization being torn apart by factions within their leadership. Other times, it’s through the campaigns I help them develop to stop injustices.

It took me some time before I could believe how rampant dehumanization is in our current society, how prone each and every one of us is to it. Here are a few of the most striking documentations of this tendency, which I hope will open your eyes to the problem: 

  • Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes Experiment - In 1968, the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed, Jane Elliott, an elementary school teacher in Iowa, asked her students if they wanted to learn about racism. When they agreed, she told them that all the blue-eyed children were better than the brown-eyed children and gave them special treatment. The next day she reversed it. Watch this video to see how the children in one of her classes responded. Then ask yourself if you have diminished anyone in a similar way. 

  • Stanford Prison Experiment – In 1971, a professor at Stanford University was curious about the striking difference of behavior between guards and prisoners at the prisons he had visited. He launched an experiment with otherwise equal students, some of whom he made guards, the others prisoners, and locked them together in a makeshift basement “prison” for two weeks. Six days later the guards had become so violent against the prisoners and the prisoners so meek as to be unrecognizable, the experiment had to be stopped. The professor had unwittingly uncovered dehumanization, not just in his students, but himself.

Experiments like these are no longer allowed in our schools, perhaps for good reason. But thanks to these courageous teachers we can learn from theirs. When we give something to someone or harm them because we believe them to be different from us, we have fallen into the very same unacceptable behavior as the students in these studies. This is not because we are bad people. None of those students were bad people. And yet they, and we, can lapse into this behavior within a matter of minutes given a few prompts from an authority we trust.

We can also stop such prompts and tell such authorities they are wrong, not meekly like the students did during the experiments, but with the conviction we should all share that such proclamations are wrong. Only when inappropriate images of charity victims are revealed to be wrong and only when hate speak is stopped at its source, authority or not, will we finally abolish the indignity, murders, and violence they breed.

I’ve done a lot of broad-brush bashing of charity organizations here. So I have to say that for every misguided charity organization there are dozens of nonprofits who treat their constituents with dignity and as their equals. There’s no need to point at the inappropriate organizations as I hope now you can pick them out. But I would like to end with a story of one that is doing the right thing against gang violence, started by former gang members who broke out of the dehumanization suck hole.

This U.S. News story seems to have begun as a general story about rising gang violence, but the people they interviewed in the video speak of hope rather than despair because they broke the chain of violence and are now helping other gang members to do the same. If any readers are still dehumanizing gang members, this story should break you out of that.

Let’s keep breaking the chains of violence and dehumanization, following the lead of former perpetrators and their victims who have already done so.

Have you been concerned about inappropriate charity images or wanted to stop hate speak against any group? Please offer your experience in the comments section.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.