Othering is A Thing
During times of upheaval and change, we often see Othering occur—a response where we narrowly define who is valued in society. And as a result, othering creates harmful divisions, leading to prejudice, discrimination, and exclusion.
Othering is not a matter of personal preference or opinion. But, rather a conscious or unconscious belief that a certain group or belief (them) is a threat to us.
So, who actually benefits from strategically creating and using fear of a perceived Other?
Othering is often driven by politicians and media, rather than personal experiences with members of the Othered group. In fact, most people who engage in Othering do not personally know the people they are Othering.
Demographics are a critical contributor to Othering in a world built on divisions. The characteristics that lead to someone being defined as Other vary from one location to another, and are based on gender, race, economic, religion or nationality. These attributes are often manipulated with stories to create divisions. Othering involves dehumanizing and dividing us versus them.
Othering also occurs through the language we use. When we use language that reinforces stereotypes, we create stories of Othering. The words we choose suggest that some people are less valuable or less worthy of respect than others.
However, if we observe a change as positive and view people in this light, we have an opportunity for connection. Why is it not simple for us to create a world where everyone feels valued, respected, and included?
What if there is no other? What if there is no separation? We were told we were separate from Nature but we are not—we are all part of the mystery of life.
The stories we tell reflect our values, fears, anxieties and hopes. But we are the authors! Our narratives shape our perceptions and behaviors, not just reflect them. Othering is not a natural response to anxieties—it is stories (and fear) created by society and culture.
Today, we have a choice in how we respond and react to every situation. By acknowledging our shared humanity we can create bridges. Or, we can break away from false and dehumanizing stories of “us vs. them.”
And it’s not just about traditional demographics, we can become aware that anything or anyone that divides is not healthy; unless we are a mathematical equation or sharing a meal. I have met so many who self-identify as empaths, someone who feels more empathy than the average person. And so we continue to create more labels and divisions based on beliefs of who is more worthy or empathetic.
Ending Othering means doing a lot of work about our conscious and unconscious bias. It is about opening our world and realizing that with eight billion people on this beautiful planet, we are always able to learn and grow. It takes effort and commitment, but we benefit in transformative ways. What if there is no other; just us?
In the midst of significant changes in the world, what role do we play in cultivating true harmonious lives and communities that matter?