It looks as if othering is becoming the most popular sport in the world. “Othering”? It’s the art and practice of emphasizing differences between people, groups, nations … you name it, to create artificial barriers and manufactured hatred: “They’re not like us! They’re the others!” Shylock protested othering in “Merchant of Venice”. Dean Jonathan Swift described it in terms of Big-Endians and Little-Endians. Sam Keen described it in “Faces of the Enemy”. Teofilo Ruiz described it in “The Terror of History” offered through Great Courses from The Learning Company.
Sometimes othering is done by governments as a pretext to declare war and grab the oil or other resources of another nation. Sometimes it’s an attempt to pull people together into a larger and larger group of haters so that the in-group can get more contributions and a bigger head-count, and can raise political capital (look no further than Washington DC).
Othering causes a great deal of pain and hurt. Families get broken up; and those who were loved are suddenly found to be … other: untouchable, unspeakable creatures whose unclean shadow must not fall on the righteous sanctified ones.
One example: something presented as an ostensibly light-hearted book, “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus”. Personally we think it’s great that women are different from men. This world would be a very boring and much less entertaining place if the genders were not different–if they didn’t dovetail so beautifully–at least, when left to their own devices without manipulation by someone with an axe to grind. If there is conflict between genders, might it not be inflicted by the culture? Too, too often we disregard the culture in which we live and ignore its assumptions, thinking no more about it than a fish thinks about the water through which it swims.
But when such othering is taken to extremes, it can become destructive. We Frosts have many Christian friends, and by the way we have Muslim friends and Buddhist friends here and there; friends of different racial backgrounds; we’re blessed with a whole boatload of assorted friends. The diversities among them are an enriching influence in our lives. Discussions with them, perhaps over a Beverage, can be pretty entertaining–but it doesn’t occur to us to think of them as others. We think of them instead as friends whom we would be sad indeed to lose. The one very good thing about such inventions as Facebook is that they bring people together. Yet even here we see almost violent attacks against people with opinions that vary only in the slightest degree.
Some people don’t seem to realize how much trouble the poor of the world are in. Time and again we’ve heard people say, “They’re poor because they don’t want to work” or “They’re just lazy.” It may be true that a handful of people don’t want to work and are lazy; but that is no reason to put the whole category (stereotype) into some sort of quarantine or (as they say in England) send them to Coventry, where no one even bothers to talk to them about their problems and possible solutions.
Recently a Unitarian Universalist attendee at Summer Institute called another person “poor white trash”. Let’s bring back the Inquisition and get rid of people with this type of attitude from among us. Or are we just othering at a different level? Gavin grew up in a class-conscious society–but, at least as he remembers it, no one would thus have insulted a poor woman with many children doing her best.
And while we’re on the subject, let’s stop listening to those people who say “He’s a devil-worshipper” or on the other hand, “She’s a fundamentalist Christian who’s already had 13 kids”. Can we not for a few minutes think of the positive benefits of togethering as contrasted with knee-jerk thinking about the negatives associated with othering?
Instead of othering, then, why don’t we think about all the things we have in common?