Objectification vs. Seeing People for Who They Are

By Ken Wells - 06/25/2020


“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs”— Step 12

If you choose to stay with the 12 step program long enough, inevitably you will need to embrace Step 12.  In order to make Step 12 a lifestyle it requires that you integrate all of the other steps into your life. Recognizing out of control behavior, Higher Power, surrender, character flaws, removal of shortcomings, and making amends is all necessary for Step 12 to be dynamic in the heart of an addict.

Regardless of addiction, objectification is a major hurdle for all addicts. When spun up with craving, an addict will obsess about their drug of choice and everything and everyone leading up to the fix are mere objects to be utilized to complete rush that comes from the junkie worm inside. To objectify means to experience what is present as an object. When addicts morph into addictive mood shift, they treat their entire world as a utility to achieve the high—not just the drug.

Addict thinking crystalizes into “I want what I want when I want it”. In relationships, addict’ behavior can be likened to an exercise ball blown up way beyond proportion that smashes everyone in the room against the wall because addiction takes up all the room. Acting out is the epitome of objectification.

The 12 step process helps to break through the powerlessness of objectification. Mightily an addict moves from dominating or being dominated to embracing surrender and acceptance. There is an egalitarian shift from “power-over” to “power-with” dynamics in relationships. As Martin Buber describes in his classic book, I- Thou, there is a transformation from “I-It (object) to I-Thou (sacred) in relationship to others. It’s the underscoring of treating all living things with dignity and respect. In this practice, even the addiction itself is not hated. Rather, an addict learns to listen to the legitimate need underneath the addictive urge and focuses on meeting that need in a healthy self-parenting manner.

The 12th step requires that the urge to objectify must be contained and sublimated. An addict must have the capacity to reframe experiences of luring enticement and obsession and convert them into empathy toward themselves and the world around them. Though an addict’s recovery is about saving themselves from addictive destruction, ultimately, it is about contributing to making a better community. Recovery always moves toward objectification being transformed into seeing others, not as a commodity but as whole people.

The 12th step requires that we extend empathy and compassion for the world around us. It implores that we see people as connected to us through common shared brokenness which is dug out in recovery throughout each step before the 12th. It is about leaving objectification behind and declaring it not useful. It’s about knowing that your life matters and treating others in ways that they matter, too. The 12th step implores that we cultivate a kinship with the world we live. The 12th step is a culmination of all the steps that compels us to treat each other with compassion and connection. It helps to cultivate a spirit that embraces the concept that we belong to each other. Therefore, we substitute name calling which is a form of objectification with healing words of affirmation. The fruit of a recovery life is not only to save the addict and family.  To inaugurate the 12th step is to revive the human spirit of consideration toward others. It is to get beyond the differences that create suffering that exist within partner relationships, social injustice and political division that dominates our communities.

When Michael Brown was killed on Saturday, August 9, 2014, I wanted to connect with the suffering that existed. For me, it was helpful to travel to Ferguson, Mo and attempt to reconstruct the last minutes of his life.  I wanted to generate compassion toward what he and others might have experienced. In short, I traced his apparent journey from the Quick Trip convenience store on West Florrisant Ave. to the location of the tragic event. I stood at the spot on Canfield Drive where Michael was shot. I wanted to try to feel what it might have been like in those last moments. I then moved to where Officer Darren Wilson likely stood and fired the fatal shots. What was it like for him? Michael wasn’t a criminal thug and Officer Wilson wasn’t a cold blooded murderer before this encounter. What could possibly be going through two people’s minds at opposite ends of a horrible tragedy? Then I wanted to stretch my experience to what it must have been like for Michael’s parents and Darren’s parents as well as those in the community? I tried to experience the inconsolable grief, hate and rage for the injustice and the sense of despair and helplessness that permeated an African American community devastated by such tragedy at that time. To say the least it was moving. I believe that working toward equality is the only way to create healing. Only when we recognize our shared humanity do we find healing in human suffering. The 12th step suggests that we carry the message of transformation that breaks down objectification, not only in addictive terms, but, in the way we choose to treat others in community. The 12th step is an action step that challenges me to treat others as not just a statistic but in an intimate relationship of kinship. It challenges me to create a sense of belonging with others who may not share my political, religious or philosophical views but do connect with me through common shared brokenness and suffering. In the advent of COVID pandemic, the thousands of deaths around the world are not just a statistic. Every death is the loss of someone’s mother, father, grandfather or grandmother. The 12th step is an action step filled with empathy and compassion. It challenges each recovering addict to connect from a heart level to the suffering and injustice of other addicts and in truth of others who suffer in the world around us.

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