It is all too easy in this day and time to think of people as objects. It is a regular habit of our behavior, and one that we engage in unthinkingly. When we are driving, for example, most of the time we can only see the behavior of the car and not the motives of the driver in the car. If we were able to know why a person seemed distracted on the road, we might cut them a bit of slack, seeing them as people, but for the most part, we merely see the behavior and if the car does not speed up as quickly as we would like or if it veers into our lane, we are generally not likely to be very kind. If this is true in such trivial examples as driving, imagine how serious the problem of objectifying people is in other aspects of life?
As human beings, we all have to deal with a great deal of fictional constructs in our heads. These constructs may be the harem of our imagination, the fictional people who cater to our every whim, and who serve as a barrier to dealing with real people who have their own interests and their own dignity and self-wroth. These constructs may be objects of contempt like a welfare queen or that of the state or nation. When we see others as constructs, or as nameless members of a particular group, we can project onto them all of our desire or contempt, without an appreciation of them as people like ourselves with their own distinctive qualities but also their own personalities and their own uniqueness. So long as we see others only as members of a group, we do not have any kind of understanding for what makes them worthwhile as human beings.
So long as we only see others as an object, whether we are attracted or repulsed by them, we do violence to them by failing to grant them the same agency and humanity that we demand for ourselves. When we only see others as a receptacle for our wishes and desires, we send others the message that they are only valuable to the extent that they cater to our pleasures, which leads them to cultivate those qualities that will allow them to manipulate others for their own pleasures. Once we are finished with sating our lusts or expressing our disgust, whatever guilty conscience we have will tend to be projected onto them, as we will blame our victims for our own failures of self-control and of honoring others. And others, those whom we take advantage of and oppress, will likewise struggle to respect themselves as well as others because they will be damaged by the violence that we have meted out to them. They, in turn, will either follow the example shown to them or struggle to see themselves and others as worthy of respect or even know how to respect others as they ought to do.
Self-discipline is an immensely difficult task, and yet it is an immensely important one as well. Those of us who have reached the age of adulthood without being too damaged by the experiences of our youth have an important role in helping to set a good example for others. Included in that example is not taking advantage of opportunities to gratify our lusts when we have those opportunities. It is comparatively easy to be virtuous when one is not tempted, because then one takes oneself to be virtuous when one may only be continent. It is an entirely more difficult matter to care enough about others to refuse the opportunity to take advantage of them when it is within one’s power to do so, when one has powerful reasons of desire or revenge to do so, and even when it might appear to us as if others desire to be taken advantage of. We must love and respect others more than they love and respect themselves, if we wish to be godly people, and that is a task of great difficulty in an age where restraint and discipline are rare and often misunderstood.
Not all objects of desire (or contempt) are improperly so. I have as an object a desire to develop my own capacity for leadership, and I recognize that if I wish to lead and rule others well, I must first rule myself. A man who is a slave to his own lusts is not fit or capable to rule over anyone else, since no one can properly regulate others and their conduct until he has first demonstrated his capacity to master his own conduct. It just so happens that today a group of my fellows at work wondered what it was that led us to be chosen for a particular opportunity, and we found out that it was our willingness to help others based on the knowledge that we had gained. Those who were unwilling to stand up and help others missed the chance, while those who were generous with what we had learned to help gained. By showing generosity and outgoing concern we gained respect and honor, despite our being very new ourselves.
There is a lesson in this somewhere. We never know when we will be tested as to our character and when we will see opportunities to either have our character vindicated or to find out that we greatly overestimated our strength of character and our level of virtue. We can easily stumble when we forget to think about others and start focusing merely on ourselves while seeing others as merely objects to be moved around a giant chessboard in order to fulfill our own desires or plans or wishes. We can, however, succeed beyond our expectations when we see others as people to be helped if we have the capability to do so, and when we can understand that by helping other people we can manage to help ourselves as well. Even if we are not particularly selfish by nature, we can still appreciate serving our own well-being while serving others, even if we are not only motivated by self-interest. At the very least, self-interest served by helping others does no harm, like the harm that comes from viewing other people as objects instead of as human beings with their own plans and objects that are worthy of respect and consideration and sometimes even assistance.