A video has been released depicting ESPN reporter Britt McHenry viciously berating a parking lot attendant. Unquestionably, this story is going to continue to gain momentum. As it should. It’s an ugly, ugly thing.
But before we get to self-righteous hand-wringing, I think we ought to pause and take this opportunity to engage in some honest self-scrutiny with respect to our own attitudes and actions. This video isn’t an isolated incident. It’s symptomatic of a deeper cultural pathology of viewing others, including “the poor,” “immigrants,” “high school dropouts” and other demographics as somehow less worth of dignity and respect than ourselves.
It is subtly, but verifiably dehumanizing. We tacitly judge the value of another human being based on what schools they went to, how prestigious their job title sounds and how much money they make. We have a congenital tendency to reduce the worth of our fellow human beings to measurable metrics like how much they weigh, how high they score on a test, or how fast they can run a mile.
By contrast, the radical truth of the Gospel is that our value lies not in anything so superficial as whether we went to Dartmouth, Cal State or Kirkwood Community College, nor whether we make $15, $50 or $150,000 a year, but in our intrinsic and inviolable dignity as a human person and child of God.
Pope Francis tirelessly denounces a “throwaway culture,” and this right here, is it: Dismissing another person as disposable because they perform a “menial job,” for an hourly wage.
Our challenge is to ask ourselves how we each support or perpetuate such detestable dynamics.
Do we treat the grocery store cashiers, hospital janitors and city bus drivers with the same respect with which we treat doctors and lawyers and university professors? Do we treat the check-in secretary at the dentist’s office with the same respect we treat the dentist? The ticket agent at the gate with the same level of courtesy we’d show the starting quarterback or head coach?
Let’s take this moment to acknowledge that we’re all a bit complicit and work to combat these ugly attitudes within ourselves, before rushing to judge others.
Michael Bayer is a graduate of Georgetown University and The Graduate Theological Union at Berkeley. He currently serves as director of outreach and education at the University of Iowa Newman Catholic Student Center.