Over the past three years I have had the privilege of working with a group called, “Un-Other”. Un-Other works on the belief that the other – they who are different to us – are not to be feared, ignored, belittled or rejected. The Other has much to teach us. The Other is my brother or my sister that I am yet to truly meet on life’s journey.
Nightly our media is full of stories that pit us against the ‘other’: the refugee, the asylum seeker, the homeless, the youth trapped in crime, our Indigenous brothers and sisters, those whose politics or faith tradition are different to our own – and even the Earth itself.
When we are locked into an ‘other’ mind and heart set we live in fear. We build higher and higher walls. We become almost paranoid about beating ‘them’, about ‘them’ getting the better of us and about somehow losing something of ourselves when our tribal identity engages with that which is different to us.
So we surround ourselves with OUR PEOPLE. We look the same, sound the same and think the same. We come up with a whole series of labels that keep ‘them’ at bay, that scapegoat ‘them’ and blame ‘them’ for all the ills of our world. So ‘them’ become ‘they’: they are taking our jobs, they are diluting our values, they are compromising our life style, they are influencing our children and they are – almost by stealth – taking over. The second we resort to labels we are almost invariably falling into the trap of ‘othering’ they or that different to ourselves.
Of course, there are battalions of vested interest people who thrive on keeping us behind our walls, shooting verbally or with a myriad of rifles at targets with ‘other’ on them and keeping us trapped in fear. Fear makes money. Fear sells newspapers. Fear is easy politics. Fear keeps the issues shallow. Fear maintains wars – providing clearly identified targets, while all the while the true enemy whether it be greed, sexism, racism or materialism sneaks by un challenged and takes more and more of our true freedom away.
Behind every labelled person is a story. The dole bludger, the queue jumper, the trouble maker, the lazy and lame are all people whose life’s journey has brought them to this time and place and situation. Sure, no particular race, no minority group has a monopoly on sainthood nor sin. Too often we ‘label’ from behind our wall. We, and often ‘they’ have not ventured out from behind our walls to truly meet, to truly engage. We hide behind religious walls, racial walls, socio-economic walls, sexuality walls and we arm ourselves with blame, quick and uninformed judgement, opinion and bias driven by the hidden agenda of unseen power players. These power players have a vested interest in keeping us behind our walls and remaining at war in its many forms.
But when we have the courage and wisdom to venture out we will discover there was never really anything to fear. The ‘un-ing’ of the ‘other’ takes place when we share story. As I have often quoted, story is neither right nor wrong, better or best – story just is and it is sacred. When we break open story and truly listen and listen with the ears of the heart we will come to depths of respect and understanding we never thought possible. We will discover friend or brother or sister – or at the very least ‘companion’ on life’s journey in the one we labelled and threw sticks at. When we share story we (and they) will be truly liberated and like the genie – this liberation cannot be put back into any bottle.
The other way to un the ‘other’ is by sharing experience with them. When you have truly walked together for a mile, when you have sweated under the same sun, engaged with a common foe and drunk from the same well – you discover the powerful and all pervasive dignity of our shared humanity regardless of tribal badges and chants.
There is not only room for difference in all of this but difference is essential for the beautiful tapestry that is life and which is humanity. Difference beings colour and shape to an otherwise bland world. But this difference is not to be feared or shunned but rather embraced and danced with – for the beautiful differences that make us unique come together and form a musical life symphony or Sistine Chapel ceiling masterpiece.
Our world has never needed to ‘un’ the ‘other’ as much as we do at present. Sadly our walls get ever higher. Sadly the wall creating media gets ever more dominant and subtle. Sadly the list of powerless and poor victims of warring with the ‘other’ grows ever longer.
Teach critique! Embrace difference! Break open story in all its forms! Grow in self awareness! Do this and you and all who call planet Earth home will know liberation and we will celebrate our shared dignity which is and always has been our birth right!
I encourage you to type in ‘UnOther’ to your web-browser and look at the UnOther website – in particular view the films where participants reflect on their personal experience of un-othering!