By Matt Mattson
I’ve always been mystified by machines like dehumidifiers. They seem magic. They suck moisture out of the air without you ever noticing what’s really going on or how it’s really happening. Flick a switch, listen as the machine makes a dull whirr, and after a while there you are just enjoying a delightfully less humid local atmosphere — living in a new sense of dehumidified comfort.
It seems as if a similarly subtle process is occurring in society. It seems as if someone turned on a dehumanifier that is quietly, invisibly, and unnoticeably sucking all the humanity out of our air. Someone flicked a switch a couple decades ago, we haven’t noticed the dull whirr, and here we are living a less human sense of discomfort.
The evidence of this is all around us.
Some of it is too close to home for me. I live in Littleton, Colorado. Home of Columbine High School, about 30 miles from a certain movie theater in Aurora, and just down the street from some less infamous but equally as frightening public shooting arenas (Deer Creek Middle School and Arapahoe High School). This is where I send my two daughters to school everyday, and this is where they went to watch Finding Dory this week.
When Columbine happened in 1999, a mass shooting like that seemed utterly unimaginable. Today, it’s the norm. Dallas, Newtown, Pulse, Virginia Tech, San Bernardino, Fort Hood, and the horrible list goes on.
There’s another list of inhuman acts, of course. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and this horrible list goes on.
People are being shot down as though they aren’t even human.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by this dehumanification. There have been signs of it for years.
We fight wars with drones. Years ago we redefined the word “friend” to be a digital classification instead of an emotional connection. Two of our most popular TV shows (Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead) feature weekly killings — sometimes by the dozens — of both human and subhuman characters. Politics has placed us on “red” and “blue” teams with no room for the nuance of the human condition. We talk about “aliens” invading our borders. We’re literally in a national argument on social media at the moment about Whose Lives Matter!?!?
The world is begging to be rehumanified. Our society is suffering through an arid period in which all the humanity seems to have been dried up.
We could point blame of course. It would be easy to point at technology, Hollywood, the media, the republicans, the democrats, the politicians, big banks, or religious zealots, and lay the blame at their feet to make ourselves feel better. Most people will do that. And they’ll do it through social media memes that reinforce their own point of view — like a machine regurgitating the simple data it’s been fed. Or we could realize that rehumanification begins with the acts of everyday humans.
We get to choose whether we will rehumanify our schools, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, and our world. Rehumanification begins with the acts of everyday humans, and those humans are us. They are you. They are me. Rehumanification begins by reminding ourselves and the people around us that we are all human. That can’t be done unless we connect. We must spread human connection like a healing ointment over the wounds of the past several decades. Our scars are deep. 9/11, the housing crash, mass shootings, brash racism, constant war, continual fear. But the medicine we need is right in our hands. Human connection has to be the remedy. It is healer. It is the rehumanifier.
Handshakes, conversations, authentic curiosity, vulnerable discourse, compassionate listening, a search for understanding, compromise, collaboration, organization, generosity. We know the choices that have to be made in every day life. With strangers, with family, with colleagues, with students, with neighbors, with children, with police, with leaders, with followers. We must find the gumption and the discipline to make those choices more often. We must, as a society, become better at practicing Social Excellence.
We’ve been defining Social Excellence like this: A state of perpetual generosity, curiosity, positivity, and openness to limitless possibility. A desire to intentionally connect with others. The ability to engage in deep, meaningful conversation. Acting in a responsible and respectable manner with high expectations of others. Being authentic and living everyday with integrity as the best version of oneself. Being confident and vulnerable. Being fun and compassionate. Being open, kind, and bold. The highest level of societal participation and contribution.
You might define it differently. But this is what we believe will rehumanify our society. This is the switch we need to flick in all of us to reverse the drying up of our human spirit and our recognition of humanity all around us. As fraternity and sorority members, we have the privilege and power to begin rehumanifying the world around us.
This is why fraternity and sorority matters in today’s world. We are fully human organizations. We have our complicated, ugly, and embarrassing sides, but we are human. We peddle brotherhood, sisterhood… LOVE… as our product. Our architecture is built entirely out of the pillars of human connection. Students — humans — need what we have to offer now more than ever. We are are manifestation of Social Excellence. This is what we have to offer. We are the healers. We are the rehumanifiers.