Claiming our Full Humanity in Troubled Times

When we treat others as less than human we diminish our own humanity

I don’t usually write in this blog about political issues.  Although I am intensely interested in and concerned with politics, I usually keep my thoughts to myself in professional settings.  I worry that as a therapist my personal political opinions could be a distraction to the work of healing that I try to do.

The recent events in Ferguson, New York and around the country have troubled me deeply.  As I have watched the reactions and reactivity unfold I find myself increasingly aware of the how similar the pain of the people involved mirrors the pain I see in the personal relationships of the couples I work with.

The demonstrations and riots on the streets of so many cities are, I believe, a pouring out of pain that has been held in for many years.  It is a pain that comes from feeling invisible, unheard, victimized and ultimately treated without dignity or respect.  It is the pain of being seen as less than fully human.  And when we feel unjustly treated, when our pain is invisible to others, we tend to lash out – sometimes at those who have hurt us, often at anyone we come into contact with.  And when we hurt others they respond in kind, creating a cycle of attack and counter-attack that often spirals downwards quickly.

Whenever there is anger, there are other emotions struggling to find expression as well:  fear hurt, shame and a sense of powerlessness.  When anger is met with further anger these feelings deepen.  What is most damaging is when we come to see the people across from us as less than human:  as other.  When we label them, when we call them names we stop seeing their humanity, and we only see the ways they have hurt or betrayed us.  Historically, when people have crossed this line and started seeing other people as less than human it has opened the door to torture, atrocities and genocide.

Injustice has occurred and we must address it.  When wrongs are committed we must hold ourselves and others accountable.  And yet, we must find a way to do it and still hold onto a deep knowledge of our common humanity.  Whether in a relationship, or in a community, the first step is always listening to each other:  sitting down together and hearing with compassion the other person’s reality while holding onto our own.  We need to take responsibility for the pain we have caused and then work to find a way to heal the pain and create healthier ways of interacting and growing together.

From my perspective this is the only way to move out of the injustice, the pain and the fear into a common future that we must of necessity all share.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Posted by Laura

Laura Marshall, LCSW, is the founder and director of the Sagebrush Center for Relationship Therapy. Her experience spans thirty years of supporting couples and individuals to create healthy and meaningful lives and relationships. She is also adjunct faculty for the New Mexico Highlands School of Social Work. She lives with her husband Steve and five sons in Farmington, New Mexico.

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