The youngest girl child in a family where Dad reigned supreme, I was left in no uncertain terms that one gender ruled the other, and the gender I belonged to didn’t rule anything. Consequently, as I absorbed my otherness, I was also imbibing the fallacy that males were privileged, powerful and superior. I didn’t like it, I railed against it as I got older, but in those days I observed it as a truth of life.
Becoming a Christian and becoming an adult combined to gradually help me unravel the roots of my sense of inferiority and vulnerability to the whims of the other and find my own sense of self, a woman among women and men, without apology, pretence or self deprecation. It’s taken a while.
Since then, I’ve realised that there are a lot of different types of others. They are those who are not like us…or more specifically, not like me!
The first occurrence of fear of the other happened not too far along in the history of humanity. Abel and Cain, the sons of Adam and Eve, were brothers, but you couldn’t have got two more different boys. One loved the land and farming, his brother was a shepherd. The trouble started when there was a difference of understanding about how to worship God (sound familiar?) They moved from brother to other in a split second.
When Cain murdered Abel a precedent was set for dealing with the problem of ‘you’re not like me’. People have been murdering each other ever since. If we don’t actually physically annihilate each other, we malign reputations, destroy credibility, take away freedoms, and possibly the unkindest cut of all, deliberately attempt to extinguish the God-given dignity that every person is created with.
What is it that’s so fearful about otherness that causes people to lose their humanity?
* A gun shot was heard all around the world when a young girl on her way to school was shot point blank in the head because the otherness of female education was so offensive.
* A kid acting like a juvenile in Ferguson was shot to death by his ‘significant other’, a police officer.
* Hong Kong students othered by a government machine they never asked for and don’t want, being pepper sprayed and beaten by law enforcers.
Australia’s government has found a way to deal with others who are fleeing from their own others. We just don’t let the boats land. We push them onto tiny islands belonging to poverty stricken neighbouring nations who are unable to give refugees the care and freedom they risked their lives for. Or we herd them into mainland detention centres like cattle – men, women and children – and keep them there for months, years even, without processing them.
Our solution to our fear is to put the other in limbo. Who cares, as long as we don’t have to look full on into their pain and despair, or work out how to handle their differentnesses.
Othering takes place in every nation, among every people group, every race and religion. Othering happens between genders and generations and races and religions. It even happens in families.
What we don’t realise is that the way we treat people we are unfamiliar with, whose lifestyle choices we don’t agree with, or with whom we have no paradigm to relate, is directly indicative of how we feel about ourselves.
You know who a person really is by how they behave when they’re under pressure. You can’t hide what you really are when times are toughest. It’s those times that accelerate separation, which is what makes otherness so incredibly isolating and fearful.
The more we accept ourselves, the more easily we are able to relate with people who are totally different from us. Jesus had it down pat. The perfect man living in a world filled with people completely alien to him in almost every way, yet He treated everyone with dignity and respect, even in the darkest moments before He died.
We observe Jesus’ perfection most beautifully when we see how He treated the people other people dismissed, discarded and denigrated.
In fact, the only people He was tough with were the religious Right, the ones who were sure they had it all sorted out. He didn’t hesitate to speak incisively into their actions, exposing their motivations for everyone to see.
There’s a great quote that comes out of the war years in Nazi Germany that relates to every generation in every nation.
“In Germany, they first came for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Catholic. Then they came for me — and by that time there was nobody left to speak up.”
I’m not a refugee.
I’m not gay.
I’m not disabled.
I’m not a First Nations representative of the country I was born in.
I have never been used as a toilet by abusive men.
I’m not a Moslem.
Apart from my femaleness and my leadership role, I’m not most of the myriad of things that count as otherness in communities and societies everywhere.
Let me tell you what I am.
I’m a follower of the One who died so that the whole world could be saved.
I’m a disciple of the One who didn’t point the finger at the broken, or side with the authorities against the vulnerable, though He had more right to do it than anyone.
I’m the person who received such an outpouring of His mind-blowingly generous mercy more than 40 years ago that my life changed forever. I became one with Him, not because of how much I resembled Him, but because of His mercy toward my difference. Mercy came running to me.
How can a follower of the One who chose to identify Himself closest with the most radically opposite people, choose to otherise anyone else? It sounds scarily close to the story of the guy whose huge debt was cleared, but then went and threw his mate who owed him a few bucks into prison.
The closer we follow Him, the more we identify with His choice to love without exception. Living within that paradigm, othering no longer exists.
This blog is synchronised with SheLovesMagazine to highlight the subject of ‘othering’, which is the thing that happens when we choose to alienate anyone who is different from us.