People reacting to the coronavirus epidemic are showing the less savory side of humanity, but are their responses really that unusual?
The BBC recently released a report about COVID-19’s spread that is, in many ways, more frightening than the physiological effects of coronavirus. “A shakily filmed video has been circulating on social media here showing an Asian man and woman being bullied by a large crowd in a low-income area of the capital, Nairobi.
“The video begins with unidentified individuals in the crowd shouting: ‘You are coronavirus, you are coronavirus.’
“The man responds by trying to film the crowd but quickly realizes that his female companion could be attacked so rushes to her aid.
“He stands up to the most aggressive member of the crowd and starts shouting back: ‘We don't have corona, we don't have corona.’
“On 27 February, a message went viral on Facebook, allegedly posted by a Kenyan member of parliament, calling for his constituency residents to avoid interaction with Chinese nationals who had just returned from China after celebrating their new year.
“The post warned that if the government did not do enough to protect its citizens, and forcefully quarantine any of these Chinese nationals, then the residents had his permission to chase away and stone any Chinese people within their vicinity.”
Stop and consider this for a moment.
People are being instructed to hunt down individuals of one particular ethnicity and bludgeon them to death with rocks because they might be from the country where the outbreak of COVID-19 first began. Nevermind, in our highly globalized world, it’s entirely possible that these people may have grown up their entire lives outside of Asia, much less China.
What to Do if You Are a Hostage
Did you know that the FBI’s hostage negotiation unit recommends making small talk with your captor?
It seems like a strange thing to do, but they instruct hostages to try to initiate innocent chatter with their guards and share relatively inconsequential information about themselves, their food preferences or pets. Doing this helps shift captors’ perception of the hostage from a thing to a person.
A little empathetic rapport can move an antagonistic person’s view of you from an obstacle or icon of opposing ideology to recognition of another human with likes and dislikes and an ordinary life somewhere else in the world. The next step is to ask your captor questions and listen to their side, make them feel like you understand how they feel.
There’s a kind of horrifying simplicity to these instructions.
Make them feel like you see them as another valuable human being, and they are much more likely to treat you like a person rather than an objective.
What if the tables, though, are often turned and we are the ones making others into captives of our fears and prejudices? What if we are the ones who are dehumanizing others and punishing them for being not being the same as us.
“The sad truth is, God’s Word exposes in many of us deep roots of bias and very limited concepts of mercy,” David Wilkerson wrote in a sermon. “We may not even be aware of these inner biases until suddenly they’re in our face, confronting us with the truth about our hearts. As you consider this in your own life, I ask you again: Are you a merciful person, tender and loving?”
Unfortunately, we often allow ourselves to be held hostage by our own discriminatory ideas about others and we hardly ever question our captors.
Psychologists have conducted a wide variety of studies and found that unconscious prejudices actively affect 90 to 95 percent of individuals in their interactions with other people. This isn’t just a few weirdos out in the woods. This is all of us.
Maybe it’s time to start investigating what’s holding us captive.
The Traveling Camp of Israel
Need it be said that God never intended for his people to all match each other exactly?
The Torah, the Jewish law books, are filled with stories of God choosing people to include in his kingdom and later with instructions for how the Israelites were to help outsiders become insiders. Even with those who weren’t part of God’s people, God gave instructions for how to treat them; the Israelites were never given free rein to harm everyone who looked or acted differently.
In fact, Moses gives Israel very specific instructions to offer people peace terms as they entered the Promise Land. If the Canaanites refused, then the Israelites could wage war, but even then, the law gave commands to protect innocents like women and children (Deuteronomy 20:10-14).
Gentiles pop up quite often in the biblical narrative like Rahab, Jael, Naaman, Obed-Edom, Ruth, the Queen of Sheba and others.
The temple was even designed with a special court for sojourners and foreigners who wanted to learn more about God’s word and take part in worship, and by the time Jesus rolled around in the New Testament, he took this concept even further.
“When he [Jesus] rose from the grave, he did so as the anointed head of a new kind of church, a new kind of people. Here now was a many-member body that would consist of all races and peoples…” David Wilkerson wrote.
“Beloved, if you are in Christ, then you are a part of this body; and you’re also a part of the last-days work of the Lord. You see, this one new man is God’s interest on the earth today. As Christ was on earth, so will be all who are in his body. Just as Jesus was the revelation of the Father’s tender love for lost humankind, likewise today all who are in Christ are to manifest this same tender love.”
If God is so deeply concerned with people regardless of ethnicity, gender or background, then we cannot claim that he’s okay with us rejecting others simply because they’re different.
This isn’t a commentary on where wisdom and discernment enter when it comes to allowing people to influence us, but we’re often all too eager to push others out, belittle them or objectify them because they cause us to question our assumptions or their differences merely make us uncomfortable, and this kind of reaction only springs from a dim view of God’s value for humanity.
Surrounded by Immortals
Initially, I watched video clips of people battling in the grocery aisles for toilet paper with black humor. We’re dealing with respiratory influenza, not cholera, folks.
One video had three women throwing punches at one another as they attempted to steal a pack of toilet paper from one another. When a store manager ran over to break up the barroom brawl, a woman threw herself bodily over her stacks of at least 300 toilet paper rolls, howling, “They’re mine!”
If it hadn’t all been so objectively absurd, I might’ve wept.
“There are no ordinary people,” C.S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory. “You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Every person with whom we speak each day or smile at or attack in the grocery store because they coughed once is not only crafted in the image of God but also an immortal being. We might very well share all of eternity with this person. If only we would pause and look carefully at one another and listen closely, we might finally treat each other like the grand and invaluable creation that we are.
Alternatively, we could also call them a disease, harass them for everyday goods in the grocery store, threaten to beat them to death and generally treat them like an hurdle in the way of our own health and happiness.
It’s our choice.