Recently I was made aware of the term “othering” and based on how I heard it, I thought it was a newly created buzzword being bantered about in today’s hyper-polarizing media. However, I came to learn that the recent manner in the word usage started in the mid 1980’s (40 years ago). The term, othering, was first used in a systematic way in 1985 by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, an Indian-American Professor at Columbia University. Spivak used it while analyzing the history of British colonial power in India.

Othering is the act of treating someone as though they are not part of ‘the group’ and are different in some manner, negating their individual humanity. It is a process in which some individuals or groups are defined and labeled as not fitting within the norms, they are seen as less worthy. It influences how people perceive and treat those viewed as part of the in-group versus those seen as part of the out-group. It can create prejudices. It is an “us vs. them” way of thinking.

At a minimum, it is stereotyping, and at the extreme end, othering can dehumanize entire groups of people. It can lead to the persecution of marginalized groups, even acts of violence. When we identify fellow humans as abstract entities, “others,” it becomes easier to justify treating them in ways we would not treat our fellow humans. Hitler did this to the Jews. Rwandan genocide and slavery are other examples. Today we are witnessing the othering of Americans by Americans, most notably along political divides. While working on this blog, Congress came to an agreement on the debt ceiling limit and the media focused on which side won, not how it benefited (or hurt) all of us.

Small and subtle othering happens often and most likely without our realizing it. I am guilty of this style of “othering.” In my sports and business experience I deal with competitors, and the competition has always been “them” and perceived as others. I tend to meld ‘role’ and ‘person’ into one entity. I didn’t like the person when it was their role I was competing against. Later in my career, I worked with one of these ‘others’ and found him to be a wonderful individual.

Othering can be considered an antonym of belonging. Where belonging implies acceptance and inclusion of all people, othering suggests intolerance and exclusion. Belonging is a basic human need, Maslow proved that back in 1943. We must rise to the level of belonging. We are all citizens of the United States whether we are Republican, Democrat, or Independent and that should matter more. Belonging is good for business and society. Belonging to each other creates comfort which leads to connection which leads to contribution. We need contributors and not detractors.

Martin Dempsey, retired United States Army General who served as the 18th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is quoted as saying, “the only antidote to fear, literally the only one, is belonging, a sense of belonging.” He noted that a sense of belonging, and a sense of trust and confidence holds everyone together in a crisis. He advocates that we are in a time where we need to establish a closer degree of belonging. Belonging to each other is not a choice – it just is. We do, however, choose to exclude others.

Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer, and theologian whose interests were rooted in ministry, spirituality, social justice, and community, wrote: “One of the greatest human spiritual tasks is to embrace all of humanity, to allow your heart to be a marketplace of humanity.” He adds: “Somehow, if you discover that your little life is part of the journey of humanity and that you have the privilege to be part of that, your interior life shifts. You lose a lot of fear, and something really happens to you. Enormous joy can come into your life. It can give you a strong sense of solidarity with the human race, with the human condition.”

Respect, dignity, and love of others are common themes in many of my blogs. In “Labels or Love?” I note that although respect is man-given, it is ‘God-demanded’ because every person has God-given dignity that can’t be taken away. When we other the least of our brothers, we other God. God did not create us to run against others, but to run with Him in our heart and head. The blog “Love and Tolerance” presents God’s standard that we must love others. The Bible does not say “tolerate thy neighbor” or even “be civil with thy neighbor,” it says, “love thy neighbor.” Love the person. It is the requirement. In “Build Bridges Not Walls,” we are all broken and sinners, so how are we determining the standards of othering? In “Calling Forward or Calling Out” we need to fight for the greatness within others and share the burden of getting better. Finally, in “What the Hell are We Doing?” I lost my patience! We are mortal and here for a limited time, we must love all, learn from others, create positive outcomes, and leave this place better than we found it.

Othering actually started in the Bible with the book of Genesis. When Adam blamed Eve for his sin, he noted her as his moral inferior and a means to his ends. From that moment onward, a primary characteristic of our fallen human nature has been to negate our fellow humans in the same way. Nonetheless, the solution to “Othering” is also found in the Bible, which St. Paul described as “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). No one is fundamentally any worse or better than we are. No person is loved by God any less or more.

The remedy for our fractured society is seeing each person through the eyes of God’s grace. When we view others as individuals whom our Father loves as much as He loves us, we are empowered to accept them as unconditionally as He does. Too often, Christians are the ones doing the judging and condemning others.

Our charge, as Christians, is to live and love in such a way that our lives are not about ourselves. We must seek to pour out our love for others, aiming to bring out the best in those around us. Imagine the impact if we modeled the Golden Rule of love for one another; if others saw the difference God’s love has made in our hearts as “we love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

We are all children of God. In the words of St. Augustine, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.” We must emulate Jesus’ passion for every human being.

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other,” Mother Teresa.

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