People are more important than their opinions and their value is independent of what they think.
This is a basic truth founded in the teachings of many of the world’s religions. It is foundational for Jewish and Christian faith, both of which have the command to “love your neighbor as yourself” as one of their essential tenets. It was once commonly taught to American children, accepted as true even by those who denied the existence of the supernatural. Those days are gone. It seems a large portion of the population believes it is perfectly acceptable, even desirable, to berate and demean those with whom they disagree.
Consider actor Seth Rogen’s recent assessment of neurosurgeon turned Presidential candidate Ben Carson. Dr. Carson, while making the reasonable assertion that an armed citizenry is better able to resist tyranny, made a questionable assertion that Hitler may have not been able to murder so many innocents if the population had been disarmed. Instead of challenging the doctor’s historical perspective by pointing out the widespread popularity of Hitler in 1930-40’s Germany, Mr. Rogen simply tweeted “F--- You @realbencarson.”
I observed a similarly demeaning tweet in response to those who oppose new gun control legislation. John Marshall of the website TalkingPointsMemo, commenting on those who favor gun rights wrote, “Amazing that w/2 new school shootings today, Obama greeted in Oregon by pro-Massacre activists.” To Mr. Marshall, the opinions espoused by those with whom he disagreed did not just make them confused or wrong or misinformed, it made them in favor of mass murder.
The dehumanizing insults are everywhere, a common feature of modern political discourse. Few attempt to engage or be engaged as it is easier to call someone an idiot, a misogynist, a bigot, a thief, or a racist than it is to dialogue and understand.
This modern tendency is not just worrisome, it is dangerous. When we dehumanize people, we make their lives mean less. The journey from devaluing a person to harming a person is not a long one. It is time for all of us to take a step back and ask ourselves what our true values are. When our opinions and political views are more important than people we have lost sight of that which matters most in life. When this is lost, our opinions don’t matter anymore.
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