Risk of Dehumanizing

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That is the essence of inhumanity. ——-George Bernard Shaw

Consider what you feel when you pass a homeless person in the street. Do you always give cash? Or do you assume that giving won’t matter, or that your money will probably go to feed a bad habit anyway, and so you walk right past. Most of us have done both sometimes we helped, but other times we didn’t, how could we be expected to never do the latter?

If you walk down a city block wanting to help every needy person you see, you would not make it very far and you bank account would quickly dwindle.

Given this fact we need some sort of mechanism that turns these feelings of compassion off. Dehumanising seems to do this. Dehumanising someone strips them of their identity as being capable of thinking and feeling and reacting as we do. It makes it particularly easy to ignore and transgress against them. It seems almost unconsciously cruel, but there is growing body of research suggesting that when we perceive another person as “not like us” this is exactly what we do.

History is rife with examples of this, The writer of the U.S constitution defined slaves as three fifth of a person, The Nazis described Jews as “Vernim”. Almost every time one group has treated another group horribly, they have found some way of dehumanising their victims.

In the research done by Princeton university, it was found that when people saw images of those belonged to what sociologist consider extreme out group(beggars, homeless-those we think are most unlike us). Their mind in essence, responded to these people not as if they were people but rather as if they were things. Even more surprising, this  wasn’t just an intuitive response, people actually reported strong feeling of disgust upon viewing the images of these outgroups, and when asked to pick objects that best represented how they felt about homeless, they chose the image like vomit and overflowing toilet.

It’s no wonder that many people who at times seem the most caring don’t always feel the pain and help those who may need the most.

When we perceive others to be so dissimilar from us, the part of our brain that are responsible for treating others with humanity can turn off, allowing us for better or worse, to numb ourselves to their plight.

Dehumanization I feel is touching us in our daily life with the people we interact, it is impacting our lives. The role of relationship has changed. Relationship like friendship, neighbors, relatives in the evolutionary sense was needed for a support system. i.e. Baby sitting, financial support etc. But with commercialization these activities have been priced by the market forces. The cost of not being invested in this relationship is arguably low. The role of relationship, has changed to may be more towards emotional dependency. Further social media e.g. face book, Instagram, twitter has changed how we interact.

Each of us has to understand the mind of another, must be engaged, up close and personal. when distance keep it disengaged, we may see other human beings as lesser minds and , thereby, a lesser persons. Unknowingly we have encouraged structure which influences this behavior. This has thus lead to dehumanizing of people not in the same scale as we feel for homeless. This is the reason i feel we have become arguably less emotional and to an extend that society see being emotional as a weakness . In-fact i feel being emotional is a window to connect with your fellow human beings

Putting this in the current covid-19 context, it is no brainier we are in for some difficult times, people will loose job, getting job would be difficult. There is a possibility that we might be guilty of dehumanizing our employees. Business would call for some tough measures, but we will have to be mindful of dehumanizing, we are dealing with people not employees. Compassion and empathy is the need of the hour remember we are dealing with humans.


Out of Character: Surprising Truths about the Liar, Cheat, Sinner (and Saint) Lurking …Book by David DeSteno and Piercarlo Valdesolo

Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and WantBook by Nicholas Epley

Disclaimer: Ideas, views and opinions expressed in the article represent my own views in my private capacity and not those of any of my current or previous employer, any institutions. The article is a research work based only the limited, dated and open source information. For the sources the statements have been quoted with the authors name. This article is only for the reading pleasure and while I invite the feedback and comments on the article, I will not be responsible or liable to any such comments as the same belong to the responder.

Leave a Reply