A growing, and already abundant body of scientific evidence establishes beyond doubt that the natural condition of human beings includes, perhaps primarily, a large capacity for empathy and mutual identification. Human beings can, however, mentally ‘dehumanize’ others, i.e. deny that the other is also human, and this process, which one scientist has called ‘pseudo-speciation,’ is a dangerous enabling condition of violence. One of the great strengths of nonviolence, conversely, is that we humanize and dignify ourselves, and those whom we offer it, recovering our natural sense of identity with one another in the process. This reinforces the belief of many nonviolence proponents that the capacity to offer nonviolence is an essential part of what makes us human. (Animals can carry out certain conflict-avoiding practices we might label as nonviolent, but assumedly only by instinct, not by an act of will).
Wars simply cannot be carried out without widespread dehumanization of ‘the enemy;’ calling them animals of one kind or another is one common way to do this form of dehumanization, but even labeling people (‘Commies’, ‘terrorists’) can dehumanize them to some degree. Therefore Resisting theis tendency to dehumanize others is a potent mechanism for peace. Uli Derickson, the flight attendant who saved TWA flight 847 by talking calmly to the two Arab men brandishing weapons said, “No matter how difficult it was, I always looked upon them as human beings. If you don’t, you may as well give up.”
Rehumanization is an indispensible part of the nonviolent toolkit. It calls for a creative mind, enduring patience, and an open heart. When we rehumanize, we are reinforcing our deep faith in an inherent human potential, as well as strengthening our ability to persuade with soul-force (i.e. by regarding the opponent as fully human while resisting his or her unjust agenda).