People are not Objects

Founder of enYouVen, Scott Larsen tries to use his background and experience to help make the world a significantly better place.

A few days ago we watched Maleficent again.  In discussion afterwards, my sister brought up a pretty insightful point; paraphrasing, it went something like: “Maleficent’s hatred for Aurora was  slowly destroyed by her hanging around her, helping her out, and in short: seeing her as a real person.”  Indeed: it is much harder to treat people poorly the more we see them as real people.

People are not objects.

When we treat people as objects, we’re making a serious error.  When we treat people as people instead, our regard for them improves and the way we treat them improves.  What are some other instances of this, in the real lives of real people?  Here’re a few candidates for discussion:

Image compliments of  Flickr user Gobi  and under the Creative Commons License.

Image compliments of Flickr user Gobi and under the Creative Commons License.

  • Communicating in text:  Research continues to come out showing that communicating with people primarily via Facebook (and friends) has detrimental effects on our social skills, and on how we treat both the people we interact with over those media, and on our interactions with others.  To some extent there’s a deception going on there: we think we’re connecting with people – but in fact we’re not really.  Memes, by the way, are a fine way at getting laughs, but are a terrible way to actually communicate.  And it’s having much longer reaching detrimental effects.
  • Politics: Nobody has to think hard to come up with examples they know personally of when people in power are treating other people more as pawns and objects than as people.  Good never results from that.
  • Work: I highly recommend the management book “Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box.”  The crux of that book, in my words: Your management skills are way less important than how well you’re doing at treating co-workers  as real people vs objects. People are remarkably astute at detecting the difference, and no amount of awesome management skills will overcome their perception that you’re treating them like objects.  Conversely, when the detect you’re really treating them as real people, it takes a lot of bad management skills to overcome that 😉
  • Fantasy Worlds: video games, movies, comics, even books.  As above, many of these are great, but there also exist many which incline us (even subtly) to treat other people as objects.
  • Pornography: Classic example of treating other people as objects.  Studies abound showing that this has very negative effects on your social skills and on how well/poorly you treat people around you.  The term “sex object” is insightful all by itself: don’t treat people (especially your spouse) as an object.  People deserve to be treated as people.


How do we treat other people more as people?

With some cues from Maleficent sprinkled in here:

  • hang out with them
  • laugh together with them
  • pay attention to them
  • do things that make them happy
  • find out what melts their butter (and what freezes it)
  • sacrifice for them

And most importantly: be conscious and aware of how you think of people and how you’re treating them.  Look around you, at both your actions and your interactions, and pay attention.  Look at the people in your life (physically around you, online, etc.) and brainstorm up some ways that you can treat them more like real people.

It’s astounding how quickly people will detect the change in you, and at how much it will mean to them.  Give it a whirl, you’ll not regret it.


Founder of enYouVen, Scott Larsen tries to use his background and experience to help make the world a significantly better place.

A conversation this week reminded me of what I call the magnification principle.  This was first introduced to me by something John Mauldin wrote many years ago, and since then I have come across a variety of research discussing it (with different names in different areas) and validating it.  This is very relevant this week (being New Year’s, etc.), but is also very worth paying attention to throughout our lives.  My version of the Magnification Principle is very similar to John’s:

“What we focus on gets larger.”

Notice that this is not “what we focus on appears larger” but instead indicates that it actually gets larger.  Obviously if I focus on my mailbox, it won’t magically grow or anything.  But I’m continually surprised at where this does apply.  A few examples:

Magnifying Glass

  • Research with subjects that want to lose weight:  They were divided into two groups.  One group focused on their weight, the other focused on their physical fitness.  The latter succeeded hands down, while the first generally failed (and even many of them gained weight).  What you focus on, increases (even if you’re focusing on reducing it).
  • Research on debt reduction:  Again two groups, one focused on reducing their debt and the other focused on working towards financial freedom.  Similar outcome: debt was reduced dramatically more in the second group.

If you focus on reducing something, you’re sabotaging yourself – because what you focus on increases.

It’s astounding (at least to me) how many places I see this principle in action.  Finances, physical fitness, mental fitness, etc. but also it applies at meta level things: I once came across research (pre-internet) comparing race relations between cities that made a focused effort on reducing racism vs cities that celebrated the progress they’d made.  Racism in the latter was dramatically improved, while in some of the former cities it was made worse.  In Pittsburgh PA they’re working on improving bike-friendliness, and they’re making great strides.  Their success is not because of more laws protecting bikers but because they’re focusing on their image of being a biker friendly city.

Are you focusing on some character weakness in your life?  Try focusing on what you want to replace it with and see if that goes better.