WHAT I LEARNED AT THE MOVIES

“LORENZO! You just let six people walk past the concession booth without asking them if they wanted anything. You have to pay attention!” This is what I heard as I was waiting in line to purchase tickets for the movie, The Zookeepers Wife. This command was spoken harshly and loudly by the older man at the first register. He was reprimanding a young Hispanic man at the third register. Lorenzo appeared anxious and hung his head as he prepared to wait on his next customer. I cringed inside. I was a witness to this public humiliation and I stood at the point between a stimulus and a response…in that space I waited.

I was glad that I had to purchase my ticket from the older gentleman because in that space I had decided I must take action and address this form of dehumanization. Freire’s readings from Pedagogy of the Oppressed were fresh on my mind, “dehumanization is not a given destiny but the result of an unjust order that engenders violence in the oppressors, which in turn dehumanizes the oppressed.” I wondered why the loss of a potential sale could cause this man to enter into this act of violence. Was money the seed of his distortion of the vocation of becoming fully human? This was my opportunity to Freire’s philosophy to praxis, “true solidarity with the oppressed mains fighting at their side to transform the objective reality which has made them beings for another…seeing them as persons who have been unjustly dealt with, deprived of their voice…risks an act of love…true solidarity is found only this act of love…in its praxis.” I also knew that I did not want to become an oppressor as I attempted to address my concerns.

My goal was not to cause more harm through harsh speech. I gently shared with the gentleman how unjustly I felt he had spoken to his employee. He quickly attempted to backpedal and repeated what he said adding in softer words such as please and added, “he knows I think he is a hard worker.” I held firm, refusing to feel intimidated by his defensiveness and said, “that is not what you said or how you spoke to him.” “Ok what did I say” he asked and I repeated what he had said. He listened and then look at me and said thank you for communicating that to me. I said I do hope later you say something to Lorenzo as well. As I passed Lorenzo I reached out and gave him a fist pump and thanked him for his hard work.

I sat down in my seat and turned to my friend Joe and said, "I am so glad I had the courage to say something." The woman sitting behind me leaned over and said, “thank you for saying something to that man, he is always so rude to his employees.” I wanted to ask her if she ever said anything but the movie was beginning. I wondered how can any of us ever be truly liberated when we are too fearful to ensure human dignity for all.

The readings of Freire lead me to explore the work of Hegel, Fromm, Marx, and Hooks…their work led me to Palmer, King, Merton, Kornfield, Nhat Hanh, and Salzburg. I kept coming back to love within all their work…is love the path to true liberation….to our vocation of becoming fully human?

In his essay, Love and Need, Thomas Merton shares, “love is, in fact an intensification of life, a completeness, a fullness, a wholeness of life…life curves upward to a peak of intensity, a high point of value and meaning, at which all its latent creative possibility go into action and the person transcends himself or herself in encounter, response, and communion with another. It is for this that we came into the world-this communion and self-transcendence. We do not become fully human until we give ourselves to each other in love.” Loving practice is the way we end domination and oppression…may it be so!

Jen Zehler