We have to be so careful anytime that we view individuals primarily through the lens of a group to which they belong. This can creep in to our lives even through a positive guise, such as appreciating health care workers.
One thought that I have been having through this global pandemic is that our group of societal heroes has expanded. Of course, not everyone feels this way, but the general view of society has evolved throughout my lifetime. I first saw that members of the military were seen as heroes. Following 9/11, first responders and firefighters joined in the hero category. And then with COVID-19, health care workers have become included as well.
In many ways, this is a wonderful thing. I am a huge fan of any increase in our care and compassion and tendency to view others positively. Many of us who view these groups in a favorable light do so because we consider that they are sacrificing some of their interests in the service of others, which is certainly laudable.
As I have thought more and more about this phenomenon, in addition to the gratitude and excitement that I have for an increase in positive sentiment, I have started to have grave concerns. One lesson I have learned through my experience with OCD and various forms of treatment is that our ways of thinking form patterns. The more we mentally traverse those patterns, the more instinctual they become. It is as if we are riding a bike on a dirt road through our mind, and as we ride the same path over and over, we form a rut which locks our tires into traveling the same exact line with little to no effort.
The implications of these two phenomena colliding are sobering and even damning. This is one way that we arrive in a situation of needing a movement like Black Lives Matter. I am not saying that everyone who celebrates those in the military, or first responders, or health care workers is doomed to become bigoted and racist. What I am saying is that if we are not aware and attentive, the same forces that pull on us to admire certain people solely because of their membership in a group we find admirable can also lead us to overlook others simply because they belong to certain groups.
At the heart of the issue, in my mind, is a lack of seeing people as people. No one deserves to be heroized for mere membership in a group, just as no one deserves to be vilified because of belonging to a group. Our individual identity is what distinguishes us as people, not the groups or groups to which we belong.
My sincere hope is not that we will celebrate people less, but rather that we will think more and learn to see people more. From first-hand experience, I know that not everyone who wears a uniform is actually a hero. People made poor choices even when they are ostensibly part of a noble profession. And heroic acts and people are to be found in all walks of life.
It is time for us all to sit up and think. We are flooded with information, but even more damaging, inundated with voices telling us what opinions we should have about that information. It is far too easy for us to surrender our wills and suspend our critical thinking skills until they atrophy to the point of impotence.
People are not a color. People are not a religion. People are not a uniform. People are not a profession. People are people. And they deserve to be treated as such.