When I was in seminary, I took a course on advocacy and organizing. One of the questions we were asked to think about was what we felt was the most pressing social issue in contemporary society. Then and now, it is hard for me to pick just one, as there are so many issues that seem important for different reasons. I could talk about the global exploitation of people in developing countries or the trafficking of women as sexual slaves and prostitutes or violence against women or poverty or hate crimes or systemic injustice. My list of issues has grown over the last over the last 10 years. Trying to pick one over the other makes me feel as if I am saying one issue is more pressing than the other, as if I am trying to prioritize them. This is hard for me to do because I think they are all important for different reasons and to different groups of people. At the root of all these issues is a common thread which contributed to their existence. Ultimately, I have come to realize that the most pressing social issue in contemporary society is our inhumanity for and towards each other.
Humanity can be thought about in two ways: the quality or state of being human or the quality or state of being humane. At its most profound level, Espin argues,
to be human is to be an image of God. It is God, therefore, who is the source and ultimate definition of humanness. And the God whose image we are is the God who is love. … Our being the image of God also implies that our humanness was created out of love and solely for the purpose of loving.
To be humane, is to have compassion, sympathy, and consideration for ALL of God’s children – human or animal. Gendler describes compassion in the following manner.
Compassion wears Saturn’s rings on the fingers of her left hand. She is intimate with the life force. She understands the meaning of sacrifice. She is not afraid to die. There is nothing you cannot tell her. Compassion speaks with a slight accent. She was a vulnerable child, miserable in school, cold, shy, alert to the pain in the eyes of her sturdier classmates. The other kids teased her about being too sentimental, and for a long time she believed them. In ninth grade she was befriended by Courage. Courage lent Compassion bright sweaters, explained the slang, showed her how to play volleyball, taught her you can love people and not care what they think about you. In many ways Compassion is still the stranger, neither wonderful nor terrible, herself, utterly, always.
Gendler’s poetic description of compassion, albeit artistic, helps us to understand that it is the interaction between Courage and Compassion that allows one to reach out in love without internalizing other’s perceptions of you. Gendler describes Compassion’s companion quality, Courage as having
roots. She sleeps on a futon on the floor and lives close to the ground. Courage looks you straight in the eye. She is not impressed with powertrippers and she knows first aid. Courage is not afraid to weep and she is not afraid to pray, even when she is not sure who she is praying to. When Courage walks it is clear that she has made the journey from loneliness to solitude. The people who told me she is stern were not lying, they just forgot to mention that she is kind.
Inhumanity then would be the reverse of this – the capacity to treat God’s creations – human or animal – without compassion, without sympathy, and without love. Unfortunately, it also suggests that we have yet to be befriended by courage. Most people do not think of themselves as being inhumane, but to varying degrees, each of us is. Each time we are aware of an injustice and say or do nothing, we condone that injustice through our silence and passivity. So this month, I want to look at what I am doing and not doing in my life and why. Feel free to join my in my exploration.
 Orlando O. Espin, “Grace and Humanness: A Hispanic Perspective” in Goizueta's collection We Are A People! Initiatives in Hispanic American Theology, ed. Roberto S. Goizueta (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), 138.
 J Ruth Gendler, The Book of Qualities (Berkely, CA: Harper Perennial, 1984), 23.
 ibid, 12.
 Allan G. Johnson, Privilege, Power, and Difference [Mountainview, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 2001]. 85