It isn’t respectful to view another human being as a “crisis”.
The news of the latest refugee “crisis” has hit the newspapers and I have mostly dragged my feet in reading about it. When I finally sat down at my computer to leaf through the many pages of writing on Syrians leaving their homeland in the face of war, the rhetoric around their leaving felt entrenched and established. Refugees “flooding” into the E.U. are creating a “crisis” of epic proportions which we should all be very, very worried about, mostly because we are so very rich and they are so very poor. And poverty, of course, means that they are trouble. How trouble? Oh, they are probably terrorists.
I don’t mean to be flip, but it is exhausting. It is exhausting to participate in a culture that refuses to recognize human dignity. Let me be clear that my argument is not that it is not a crisis of epic proportions to contend with war and be forced into the brutally violent decision to leave one’s home and community, to flee, to face starting anew. No. What I want to make clear is that using the word “crisis” in articles about how Westerns nations should react as Syrians resettle outside their original communities and first homeland is the assault. In other words, I object to the media that argues about how to “deal with the crisis”.
It is also exhausting to reduce and essentialize people as objects of pity. As if that is all a human is– someone to fear, or someone to pity. Most of the humans I know are to be loved and enjoyed for their unique, dignified nature. (Sometimes, particularly with cranky family members, humans are to be tolerated until the holiday dinner is over).
Language is a slippery thing. The things we say affect things, and the words we choose to describe things influence our perceptions which in turn shape the actions we take. It is not a crisis to welcome newcomers into our wealthy homes, but a gift. When visitors come to visit, we are given the gift of getting to be unsettled. We are forced out of our ordinary routines which provides an opportunity to think differently about the world. Visitors bring interesting thoughts and ideas and stories. Sometimes, visitors bring interesting and new objects for us to learn about and be curious about. Refugees may be visitors or they may not. They will not be visitors if they either choose or are unable at some juncture to return to their homeland. Then, they will be our new neighbors. But regardless, today, people from Syria are visitors who come and bring gifts with them.
When we change our language, our rhetoric, we get to perceive things differently. What if newspapers talked about the visitors, the new neighbors– instead of the crisis? With such language we might be able to choose to be delighted, to be interested, to take up this opportunity to stretch ourselves and dig deep into those parts of ourselves that are generous and loving. Hear me out for a moment: when we are in our ordinary routines, we can often forget that our purpose in this broken world is to love. We get mired in daily personal sufferings like that never-ending rush hour traffic or that the guy whose armpit your nose is stuck in on the subway who smells just so terribly wretched. What a joy to get to think about visitors, someone who is outside of our little mundane routines, who may need love. What a joy to get to give, to be stretched as humans. What a joy to love.