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Part Four of Six Part Interview with Author Mary DeMuth on As We Forgive

March 23, 2009
By Catherine Larson

Today, part four of the six week interview with Mary DeMuth appeared on her blog, My Family Secrets. The discussion today centered around the eight stages of genocide and the similarities we see in the downward spiral in interpersonal relationships. Here's an excerpt:

1. On page 226, you describe the 8 stages of genocide. What are they?
The International Campaign to End Genocide has identified eight stages of genocide: (1) classification, (2) symbolization, (3) dehumanization, (4) organization, (5) polarization, (6) preparation, (7) extermination, and (8) denial.
Classification involves an us-versus-them mentality. In genocide, these categories develop along racial, ethnic, or religious lines. Such differences may be symbolized in the culture negatively. This may take the form of a literal symbol, such as in Nazi Germany where the Star of David was used to target Jews. Many times a symbol will also be dehumanizing, as in the use of the word “cockroaches” to describe Tutsi in Rwanda.  As the differences between groups are negatively characterized and classified, dehumanization increases as does further polarization between the groups.

2. How do some dysfunctional childhood families emulate some of those stages?
On a much less extreme scale, it is interesting to note the similarities between the downward spiral of genocide and what psychologist John Gottman has labeled the four most likely predictors of divorce: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. Differences are classified and verbalized with absolute statements such as “You never” or “You always.” Spouses become polarized. Contempt for the other solidifies.  Contempt—an intense feeling or attitude of regarding someone or something as inferior, base, or worthless—is only a step away from dehumanization. The result is that some spouses may stonewall or deaden their feelings toward each. They have closed out the other—a psychological exterminating of the other’s presence. Of course, severely dysfunction families may actually use physical violence as well.

It's interesting how physical or emotional abuse often follows similar patterns of separation and dehumanization before moving to more intense forms of physical or emotional harm. Seeing another person in light of our shared humanity, as another human made in the image of God, can alternatively enable us to treat the other with respect and dignity. For  the full interview, check here.


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