On social media, as well as in conversations with individuals sensitized to Othering, the practice is frequently faulted. It’s considered a key component of exclusion, violence, and a range of other dehumanizing attitudes and practices. Racism, sexism, classism, ableism, anti-queer, anti-trans legislation, and a host of other discriminatory practices can be directly linked to it. Our illusory (and culturally reinforced) sense of separation makes it possible – and sometimes even preferable – for us to see others as less-than.
Othering permits (even encourages) us to perpetuate injustices which have created suffering for generations upon generations of people “not like us”. Slavery. Robbery. Rape. Violence. All kinds of abuse. Economic disenfranchisement. Deportation. Pick an evil which humans perpetuate towards others, and Othering can often found at the center of the whole mess. Artificial and imaginary as it may be, our habitual devotion to illusory separation reaches its toxic tentacles through the foundations of our human condition, like so many tree roots spreading under (and breaking up) a perfectly good sidewalk.
Overcoming the human tendency to discriminate and “Other” those we consider different from ourselves is often considered the key to relieving the suffering we both feel and cause the people around us. Once you realize that separation is an illusion, you’re no longer subject to it. You can consciously choose to behave differently and experience unity, in hopes of reducing the quotient of human suffering on earth. In the words of a Buddhist friend: “If I am not separate from others, how can I have anything other than compassion for them and myself?” A compassionate view of others might not completely eradicate the harshness of the world, but it can certainly keep you from perpetuating it, yourself. And in your own little corner of the world, it gives you the power to alleviate the Othering-induced sufferings of others, on however small a scale.