Friday, February 6, 2015

Dehumanization and Humanization

We look back at past times and ask "How Could They?!" Often, we feel a mixture of disgust and smug satisfaction that WE do not practice slavery or segregation, that we have outlawed child labor, that we do not see the possession of make genitalia as a prerequisite to voting or getting paid the same.

We forget that perhaps it might be more important to reflect on what might our descendants think about us, and what practices we might change to get ahead of the game. Think on KERA had a fabulous eye-opening program about this aptly titled "How Could They?" Check it out via their podcast:

The key, it seems, is to look at present practices, and see which of those involves dehumanization of groups or individuals. The podcast specifically cites the treatment of undocumented immigrants as such a practice. As I am currently reading "Hand to Mouth" by Linda Tirado, another example I thought of is the poor. Tirado poignantly asks, "How can the rest of the country live knowing that so many of us have to live like this?" A specific rising star in politics, stating that a large number of persons receiving Social Security disability payments are frauds, is yet another example.

Obviously, if you are reading this blog, those experiencing homelessness are on your mind. The snarky Dallas Morning News Letter to the Editor we addressed two or three months ago, questioning why persons experiencing homelessness need cellphones, was an example of such dehumanization.

The antidote to this is to humanize those who are being dehumanized. One of the best ways to do this is to interact with and facilitate interaction with dehumanized persons. The podcast taught me that the LGBT community has a name for this, "the Portman affect," named for Republican Senator Rob Portman. Portman stands out in his party for his wholehearted support of gay marriage. The reason for his stance? His son is gay. Likewise, if you show up regularly at the MDHA Alliance Homeless Forum, listen to and get to know persons experiencing homelessness, you to can experience, "the Portman affect" too.

Another way is to read and educate yourself about what and how our society dehumanizes persons, and how policy changes addressing this might humanize them. I am finding Tirado's book tremendously helpful in this regard, as is our good friend and MDHA board member, Larry James' book, "The Wealth of the Poor." (It might be said that James' book is the softer New Testament version to Tirado's justifiably more angry Hebrew Scripture prophetic admonishment.)

It is important to make sure that the solutions we offer in these areas are humanizing. This means making sure that all programs are person-centered. When we are approached for help, the question should not be, "Will this person be successful in our 'one size fits all' program?" The question must be, "What solutions will help this person address his or her own unique set of challenges?" In a blog post in the very near future, we will address how our new Coordinated Access system will help with just that.

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