I’m just going to go ahead and say it: it’s fun to be mean and degrading. Giving people nicknames you’d never repeat in front of them, making jokes about a person’s mannerisms or appearance, talking smack about the people you don’t like – all of that makes for entertaining, hilarious conversations. And boy, am I good at it. I mean, really good.
Then the other day, I was listening to someone talk about how lust is simply the act of dehumanizing a person, making them into an object without seeing the value of their entirety. And I thought, holy hell, I do that all the time with my name calling. It’s not any different, you see. A person who is a brother, a son, a friend, an uncle, a grandson, a child of God becomes [insert derogatory nickname here]. That’s all I see when I look at them or encounter them. Pretty quickly, that’s all they become to me. My words dehumanize them without them even knowing it, and their worth is reduced to the singular thing that made me mad or the mannerism that irks me.
Most of the time, the name calling starts because I have expectations of people that don’t get met. I expect that super attractive guy I’m flirting with to eventually ask me out, and when he doesn’t he becomes an asshole. Or I expect that other person to be aware of the fact that laundry shouldn’t be done only once every couple months, so when they don’t grasp that concept, they become the dirty asshole. Eventually, I can’t speak of this person with respect. I can’t look them in the eye and value who they are because all I see are my unmet expectations. Like a two-year-old, I throw a tantrum when people don’t give me what I want but it’s cleverly disguised under the adult variant of sarcasm and disrespectful humor.
How am I that different from that guy who only sees a body to mentally disrobe when he looks at me? I get furious when the conversations of lust and shame and who’s to blame come up. I have strong opinions, and I’m not ashamed of them. But what makes his dehumanization of me worse than my dehumanization of him? We’re reducing each other’s humanity to fragments either way, but my method of choice just happens to be more socially acceptable.
I think a lot about the woman I want to be – the kind of wife or mom or friend I aspire to become. Her beauty shines from the inside out, and you come away from any time with her feeling valued, loved, and at peace. That woman will not miraculously appear as soon as someone puts a ring on my finger. Her beauty is cultivated now – in my words, and speech, and thoughts today. If today, I become mean and degrading as soon as my expectations are not met, how much more when I’m faced with someone else’s humanity in my heart and in my bed till death do us part?
I want to learn to celebrate a person’s humanity and imperfections even when it’s uncomfortable and everything in me wants to berate them. I want to love selflessly, not just the people I’m friends with, but everyone I encounter. I want to be like my mom, with her quiet dignity and gracious words about the people who did her the most harm. So I’m starting by keeping my mouth shut and my eyes open to see and appreciate the value of the whole person. After all, we’re all more than the sum of our broken parts.
“Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down, not cut them out.” – Colossians 4:6.