Applied Bioethics Magazine

Issue No. 01: The Human Person

The Great Equalizer

Managing screen time is tough. I try to limit my kids to 30-60 minutes of television time throughout the day. I'm inconsistent at hitting that mark, but I still aspire to that goal. When I turn on the TV, I almost always turn on a show from PBS Kids. There's more than enough mindless programming out there aimed at kids. Watching TV is a passive activity, but if they pay attention, they might learn something watching PBS. Unfortunately, I broke the cardinal rule of not pre-screening the things that my kids watch.

We were stilling at dinner one evening, and my first-grader asked me about the color of his skin. It was a surprising question because children don't think in those terms. Several questions later, I learned that a recent show on PBS Kids introduced him to the idea of race. The show attempted to explore the history of slavery in the United States. He watched that episode and walked away with the idea that there might be something wrong with him, that he might be a bad person, because of the color of his skin. I got up from the table and deleted the PBS Kids app from the TV.

We're in an era of polarization and division. It's the human story. In our brokenness, we fail to integrate our aspirations into our lives. We fail to recognize the inherent worth of every human person, from their first moment of life until their natural death. Instead, we sort, organize, assume, and divide one another into groups based on every kind of characteristic.

There are plenty of opportunities to group people: by race, sex, religion, ethnicity, national origin, political views, education level, marital status, disability status, diagnosis, homeownership status, geographic region, zip code, employment status, field of study, job title, age, wealth, sexuality, hobby, idiosyncrasies, music tastes, and any other wedge that we can find.

Things are no worse now than they were in years past. Every generation has its struggles. The struggle will continue as long as the involvement of humans in society continues. The only difference is that we have to contend with these issues in the omnipresence of the Internet. We can know far more about each other than ever before, with updates streaming in by the minute.

In a sense, these divisions are natural. After all, each human person is an unrepeatable, irreplaceable individual. We have our unique blend of interests, hobbies, lifestyles, and worldviews. The human brain likes to sort, organize, and bring order to the disorder.

In another sense, these divisions have real negative potential. In seeking their ends and objectives, bad actors use them to sow chaos and tear at society. They beat the drum of differences so loud that we lose sight of the things that bring us together in the noise.

Part of this polarization is of our doing. Any time we entertain the idea that the dignity of the human person isn't paramount, we allow ourselves to question all aspects of it. If we can kill a child in the womb, why can't we kill a useless older person? If a person of one faith or race isn't deserving of respect, what other characteristics can we ignore?

I have to care as much about my parents as I do about Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man. I have to be as concerned about my wife as I am about an earthquake victim in Haiti or Tonga. I have to love and cherish my child as much as I love and cherish a persecuted minority somewhere in Asia. It's a tall order, indeed.

The fact is, our existence as human persons is the great equalizer. It's the only universal thing we share with every other human person. Our challenge is to embrace it, live it, and act on it.