This week my kids and I were watching Zootopia in honor of MLK day. Whether most people realize it or not, Disney made a movie that explains overcoming prejudice to children more clearly than almost any curriculum or book most have ever seen.
The plot is quite simple: there are things that thinking creatures “have always thought,” most of which are unfounded. Some of them are so ingrained that we may not even realize we think them. Others of these things we think certain folk will actively choose to take advantage of to keep specific “other” creatures under thumb. Unless there are those willing to stand up and stop them – and make this world a better place.
There is this one scene early on in the movie when our heroine herself unthinkingly speaks in an extremely condescending way to her new friend, a member of the group that is consistently being “othered” in the city of Zootopia. She unwittingly belittles him by trying to compliment him, patronizing his ability to even be articulate in the first place.
Like so many, the hero from the “others” group grins and bears it as the rest of us cringe with regret. But in watching that scene this week, it got me to thinking…
Sometimes our language and word choices can automatically end conversations before they begin. Stop reconciliation work that can never get started. Keep walls up and trenches dug, where bridges could be built.
You see, when a person is belittled, or their feelings and comments are disparaged before they have even spoken, there is very little reason for said person to remain at the table. Nor for them to feel that they are actually a part of the conversation or any vision for a future built together. It would seem that mutual dialogue and forward movement are not the true pursuit, but rather keeping the quid pro quo while maintaining the comfort of the comfortable.
And that, my friends, is a recipe for a whole lot of festering. Resentment. Building up a volcanic like pressure that will blow one day when there is no other choice and grinning and bearing it can no longer be borne.
Everyone deserves a place at the table and to have their views heard. Nevertheless, as we do so, we need to all be mindful of the language we use as we approach one another so that we ensure that we are not unthinkingly shutting someone down before they even open their mouth.
Silence can only be endured so long. Eventually, all that needs said will come out. The health of our relationships with our fellow humans depends on our ability to invite candid, caring, and kind conversation both includes all the voices and encourages the flourishing of all involved.