“The root of cruelty lies not in the ability to dehumanize a person but the very opposite–to see someone as human.” – The Root of All Cruelty?, The New Yorker
Foreword: This article mostly draws from the atrocities of the Holocaust to make its points, but it also applies to any and all human cruelty. My brother sent this piece to me in response to my experience in Xinjiang.
Animals. Vermen. Scum of the earth. When it comes to genocide, war, hatred, you often hear the predator use these words to describe their target. From a glance, it seems this mechanism is employed to remove the human factor; reducing a person to an inferior form allows one to surpass the limits of his moral boundaries in order to inflict harm. Some might consider this dehumanization, but it requires recognizing the human in someone to make the words sting. Would calling someone a “pig” really hurt if you did not see her as human? Also, the fact that one must “dehumanize” another to justify cruelty highlights his humanity as well; without this justification, one’s moral, human limits keep her from antagonizing her victim. It turns out that “dehumanization” is a very human process.
I mention all of this to get you thinking about the human form. All negative emotions stem from a more vulnerable place. Anger arises from fear; jealousy arises from infatuation. No one is born evil. It is insecurity that breeds hate.
Sometimes I forget this, that no one is invincible, no one is perfect, no one has it all. People are delicate and made to break. Someone can put up a brave, macho facade, seem like they have everything under control, but deep down they share the same soft core as you and me.
I started reflecting on the concept of the fragility of the human form as a result of my fellow Dragons’ courage to willingly put themselves in a vulnerable place and share their life stories with the rest of the group, something I hope everyone at some point in their life has the opportunity to do. I had done this activity on my last Dragons semester and pushed to do it again because I find it so valuable.
It is no easy task to recount your life’s story from start to now to a group of strangers, remaining completely transparent, fully opening yourself up. However, afterwards both parties feel enlightened. The speaker, perhaps nervous at first, feels a weight off her shoulders; it is all out there in the open, nothing left in the dark, nothing more to hide. You feel light, airy. The audience sits back in awe of all the different dimensions or layers of the speaker that they were not previously aware of. All of the sudden, you realize how much you have in common with the person, you are able to relate to them more, they become more human, more real and authentic to you.
Opening yourself up like this, whether you are the speaker or the audience member, is something truly special to experience. Vulnerability is uncomfortable but necessary to fostering healthy, trusting relationships. It reminds you that everyone struggles. Low self-esteem, low self-worth and -love, insecurities, anxiety–these are things we all deal with. You are not alone.
Everyone, every single person on this earth, longs for the same thing: friendship and acceptance; to love and be loved; companions who eagerly afford guidance, consolation, and motivation in times of need.
Humans are sensitive creatures. It is important to remember most people do not have malicious intentions; those who do mean to cause harm, I believe, still have that universal sensitivity and vulnerability that connect us all, but have been misguided somehow. They are still human, however.
This is a huge comfort, I think. I could be walking next to friends, I could be walking through the streets of NYC alongside strangers, or even through the small villages here in Kyrgyzstan and the truth remains the same: we are all interconnected. From me to the next person, to the next, we are all afraid, insecure. And we all want love, happiness, and success, however you may define it.
With these realizations, I have figured out the principles on which healthy relationships are established: compassion, understanding, and empathy. If everyone approached one another with an open mind, more people would realize we are more alike than we are different. There would be less hate in the world, more love. Perhaps the root of cruelty would be squashed and the root of kindness would grow as acceptance became more abundant.
Next time the person you dislike, or dare I say hate, crosses your mind, remember this: they are just as fragile as you. They want to be loved just like you. They are human just like you.