Do you listen to This American Life? If not, you should. Seriously. I listen to the podcast while I do dishes, and it is awesome. It’s story telling at its best. 10, 15, even 50 minute stories that are interesting and awesome, and are usually pretty thought provoking.
Last week, they re-released a 2003 show called “My Pen Pal,” the story of Sarah York and Manuel Noriega’s relationship as pen pals. Noriega was the Saddam Hussein of the late 1980′s- Dictator of Panama, drug trafficker, CIA double agent, trained at School of the Americas. York was an 11-year-old from Nothern Michigan who began writing to Noriega because her dad liked his hat.
They wrote back and forth, and York soon realized something that went against everything she was hearing about Noriega. She realized he wasn’t a monster. He was a person.
Yes, he was a person who did some awful things. Some awful awful things.
But people fought York (11 years old) over the idea that he was a person. They wanted to believe he was incapable of being human. They had to believe that he was pure evil.
At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, let’s take a look at Hitler. Hitler did terrible things. But he was also a person, capable of love and friendship.
Now, I am in no way defending these people. They are guilty of terrible things. But I do think that every time we reduce a person to the “other” and then further on to a “monster”, we are doing ourselves and our communities a major disservice.
By demonizing the other, it becomes easier to do things that we wouldn’t do to people. It becomes not just simple, but logical, to become a monster yourself. It’s easy to say, “They’re not actually human, so I don’t need to treat them like one.”
And this isn’t just about evil dictators. It’s about the awful neighbor whose dogs won’t shut up. It’s the landlord who takes 8 months to fix a leaky sink. It’s the coworker who is annoying as all get out.
Look for the humanity in everybody, no matter their actions. To deny someone else their humanity is to give up your own.