Probably the most potent weapon of war is to make your citizens believe that the people they are supposed to fight are less than human – alien, other, not worthy of life. You can see it over and over in history, and we see it in the current characterization by certain Western factions of Middle Eastern Muslims as ignorant jihadis, or by certain jihadist factions of Westerners as infidels. These characterizations wouldn’t work if there wasn’t a grain of truth – there are ignorant jihadists and Western infidels. But the value of this tool lies in painting an entire culture with that brush. The mere act of painting an entire culture with any brush makes them seem less human. And when a people becomes less than human in your eyes it doesn’t matter as much to you what happens to them.
Even for ourselves, for humans, there is a pervasive notion that all of us are inherently violent, or flawed. We get this message every day on the news and in the media here in the United States. I can’t speak to the message spread in the rest of the world, but here it is really easy to find this perception that we, humans, would rather hurt each other, rather fight to the finish, than help each other.
Yet over and over, stories pop up that show humans choosing to help each other, even at our own expense. These stories might seem rare. They pop up as special features on the nightly news – ‘Look how unusual and noteworthy! Someone went out of their way to help someone else!’ But if you look in the right direction, or with the right perspective, you can find these stories everywhere. We humans, or at least most of us, have an inherent desire to do good. Yes, we can be tricked into hurting other people. Yes, we get jealous and vicious. Yes, there are those among us who are so broken all they know how to do is harm other people. But they are not the majority. They aren’t even a very big minority.
And that’s why so much has to be done to make our ‘enemies’ appear to be less than human in order for us to go out and shoot them, or to not protest when our armies are sent out to shoot them. Or starve them. Or steal resources from them. Or feel okay about buying cheap products that are made by them when they are working as slaves. They aren’t really human, are they?
So what happens when we change the story? What happens when we step beyond the dehumanizing facade and look at the ‘other’ as another one of us?
Israeli graphic designer Ronny Edry followed such a question, and put a poster up on Facebook telling Iranians ‘We Love You’, when it looked like war between Israel and Iran might be imminent. I don’t know if the love campaign that followed had a political effect. The war didn’t happen, but who knows why? But it did have a human effect. It affected me when I watched the TEDx talk that he gave about it.
This may seem like a childish, or naive notion. But sometimes these seemingly childish notions are actually revolutionary. Watch the TEDx talk. It might make you believe in naive, loving actions, too.
Great Idea: Change the tenor of the discussion around war by reminding your friends that your enemies are human, too.
Practical Step: Create a simple graphic, easily reproducible, telling those who are supposed to be your enemies that you love them. Then watch it go viral.