I saw this image come across facebook right after Whitney Houston died, and it got me thinking.
When a celebrity like Johnny Cash, Michael Jackson, Mother Theresa or Gandhi dies, it rocks the world. Why? Because these people influenced our lives. They made profound contributions to society (some far greater than others). Each of these celebrities influenced my life in very significant ways. I celebrated their lives and mourned their deaths.
It is natural to value certain people’s lives more than others, and I think it’s warranted. I am far more connected to my family, friends and those that have influenced me than I am to a stranger. If they were gone, I would miss them more than a stranger.
People care about what touches their lives. We care about what we can relate to or what we respect or want to be. Charities and Aid organizations spend the majority of their fund raising hours trying to inspire people to value the lives of the poor the same as they do the lives of people in their sphere of influence and experience.
Starving children in developing countries are typically too far off people’s radar. Most people haven’t connected with them on any personal level, nor do they have any concept of their reality or the level of their struggles.
Society puts people in different boxes. Politicians over here, family over there, celebrities of here. Through years of conditioning and ever increasing lack of perspective, society has dehumanized the poorest of the poor. Somehow they have become “the poor”, rather than being viewed as people like you and I.
Therefor it becomes easier and easier to dehumanize them, or just to refer to them as….them.
Developed nations have a long history of creating coping mechanisms to accommodate their insatiable desire for comfort. Compartmentalizing has become an accepted habit. We’re conditioned into believing that its natural.
When people are starving, dying from disease, or being forced into slavery, it’s not a charity issue, it’s a humanity issue. We are all human.
Why is it so easy for most people to say, “that’s not my problem”? People do it when they walk down the street in their town, and when they hear of atrocities in Africa or South America.
As a general practice, I’m committing to being more cognizant of any tendencies I may have to devalue the life of anyone I don’t know personally. I’m looking deeper into people’s lives, seeking more and more understanding of their struggles. And I’m practicing grace more liberally.
I think about this when I experience a waiter, a clerk at the grocery, a street person or anyone else I don’t know personally. I especially think about this when I’m irritated with someone. I’m trying to soak in more of humanity, to be more accepting and understanding.
This is a valuable contribution to society that I can make daily. You can too. In fact, I think it’s a key component to fostering a more egalitarian society. And I hope that’s still the goal.