Othering Need Not Be Destructive

Likewise, recognizing the Others – those who are clearly separate and distinct from us – offers us a unique opportunity to expand our understand of the world, and ourselves. “Othering” need not be destructive. At least, not if we’re committed to completing the circle and connecting with those Others. It can be inclusive. Recognizing our differences, fully appreciating them, and then acknowledging the problems that the gaping chasms cause between us, is one of the best ways for us to find the motivation to cross that chasm, to reach out and make the kind of contact we all long for.

If we don’t recognize and value the inherent Other-ness of others, what motivation do we have for expanding our understanding of them and their perspectives? We don’t. We can’t. Because we think there’s no problem. After all, we’re not Othering them, so we’re not harming them. We’re experiencing them as just like us.

But that only works for the person who’s avoiding Othering. When we say “I don’t see race, I don’t see color, I don’t see differences”, it is a problem. It may feel like we’re being inclusive, but we’re actually excluding Others and the differences that make them unique and whole in themselves. We’re short-changing and oversimplifying the connection between us by refusing to see the parts of those others that don’t square with our own perceptions. We are conveniently overlooking the ways that their sensibilities and experiences run directly counter to our, and what those differences mean to them. We infantilize the relationship and deprive everyone of the chance to expand their understanding of the full range of human life.

We tend to think that we’re capable of objectively raising our consciousness and weaning ourselves off of destructive behaviors like Othering. But the fact of the matter is, many of those behaviors we consider destructive are only a problem if we don’t fully engage with them and explore their full meaning. The real problem is not that we have uncomfortable differences. It’s not that we have conflict and disagreement and discord. It’s that we often don’t know how to negotiate those differences, step into the gaps, and explore what else is possible, as a direct result of those conflicts.

Other people aren’t exactly like us. Not even close. And when we tell ourselves that imagining no divisions will bring us together, we’re missing out on a huge opportunity to really understand the experiences and perspectives of people who are nothing like us, in no small part because their lives and their histories bear no resemblance to our own.

Personally, I believe the lure of Undivided Unity is a trap. It snares your mind in lazy habits, and it tells your soul that there’s no need to extend yourself beyond your own perspectives, your own context. It encourages you to stick with the company of people who think, believe, and live as you do. It also blinds you to the differences inherent in others (especially the differences they call out) and discourages you from interacting with people very different from yourself, because it “supports the illusion” of separation. The ideal of All-One may seem noble, but it fundamentally denies the inherently separate nature of our very beings, from the cellular level, on up.

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