While I was working on my second book a couple of days ago, I was reminded of a phenomenon that seems to be becoming more and more prevalent these days.
I'm talking about the habit of treating people as things rather than as human beings. You see this especially on the news, where people are lumped together under a single heading, such as “Islamists”, “middle class”, “Asians”, “Americans”, etc., as though one word fits them all. This simply acts as a means of dehumanising the people in question.
This has been going on for a long time. It first came to my attention in the mid-90s when a memo was circulated around the Swiss bank I was working for at the time. It stated that the Personnel Department would henceforth be known as Human Resources. It went on to state that all of us would no longer be designated MA (Mitarbeiter, German for employee); we would now be LE (Leistungseinheit, German for production unit).
This is dehumanising. It suggests that people are considered as fungible (i.e., replaceable by another of the same, like banknotes or coins). It ignores personality, capability and accumulated know-how; in other words, it completely ignores our humanity.
To show how quickly things have changed, consider the beginning of the 80s. When I started working at my first Swiss bank, I was told by an older gentleman that the Personnel Department was there to act as a buffer between my superiors and me. If I had any problems with anyone higher up in the chain of command, I should approach someone from Personnel to help resolve the situation.
17 years later, during my exit interview as I left the Swiss bank I was working for (the same one I mentioned three paragraphs ago), a young man in Human Resources haughtily informed me that their sole task was to hire and fire LEs. I got the feeling that he didn't regard me as a person at all. This resonated with the fact that six months earlier a particular middle manager had been treating all of his subordinates like chess pieces.
It's such thinking that makes it easy for big businesses, banks and governments to mistreat us as they do. If we’re not people, just production units and sources of money, then they can throw us away when we’re of no use to them any more. Witness how the elderly, handicapped, poor and unemployed are treated, and how the rich, powerful and politically connected rake it in.
I prefer to treat people as people. I learn the names of the personnel in the shops and supermarkets I frequent, for instance, and I greet them by name. As an aside, I remember asking one cashier how to pronounce her name; it was pronounced Chetin. She told me that someone had recently greeted her as Mrs Cretin.
I've been told by a friend that my biggest problem in the dating game is that I treat women in the same way that I treated men, i.e., I treat them as human beings, not sexual objects. It seems that a great many women, despite objections to the contrary, subconsciously don’t like being treated as equals. They either expect to be downtrodden, or they expect their gender to give them undeserved advantages. Maybe I’m wrong, and this is just my somewhat skewed perception.
No matter what the “reality” of the situation is, I would rather be a humanist than a sexist or a “thingist”. Wouldn't you?