How to Stop Othering and Start Belonging
Are you engaging in “othering?” We all do it sometimes. Many of the ways we do it are unintentional. Sometimes we even do it when we’re coming from a good hearted place. Regardless of why, it’s destructive. It creates separation that takes us out of a place of compassion, love, and belonging.
Why Do We “Other”?
- Othering is a natural way to protect ourselves from things that we find different, uncomfortable, or threatening. The brain tends to steer us away from danger and towards similarity. So, it’s often unconscious. We aren’t even aware that we’re doing it.
- Social conditioning. When we are part of a high status, high self esteem group, we can be intimidating to those who appear or feel lower status or lower self esteem. We can roll over others without realizing we’re doing it. This is reinforced by society and the media. So everyone acts within their role and reinforces the social norms.
- We are unskilled. If we don’t have social skills to move towards differences with confidence, we can continue to see danger in what is foreign.
- We are prejudiced. When we hear negative and biased stories against a profession, race, physical appearance, intelligence, nationality, sports teams, gender, or other groups often enough, we can accept those judgments without questioning them. Our ignorance leads to prejudice.
- We choose not to bridge the gap. Sometimes we know that we’re othering and we simply choose not to do anything about it.
How To Stop Othering?
Before I get to how to stop othering, I want to point out that the goal is not “saming.” Othering and saming are extremes. Life’s not black and white. Neither extreme is effective because saming removes the uniqueness that makes us all wonderful. We don’t want to erase or ignore the differences. We want to acknowledge and love them. Everyone can be sovereign and connected.
So let’s look at how to stop othering.
- Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the tool that will help you check yourself when you’re othering. When you notice yourself creating barriers, stop.
- Love yourself. Be sovereign. Don’t expect others to give you your self worth. Let it come from within.
- Gently speak up for yourself and others when you see someone else othering. Don’t make them the bad guy or the enemy. If you do this, you’re fighting othering by othering. The goal is to allow everyone to have their dignity and retain their place in the tribe.
- Listen. It takes a lot of patience and self discipline to listen to someone say ugly, disagreeable things. Sit with the discomfort long enough to see what’s in it for you. Listen long enough to create a safe space where the other person can learn from you. Grow together.
- Compartmentalize. Don’t judge people by one thing. If someone says or does something thoughtless, let it be one thing, not the whole of their character.
- Allow people grace. We are all young, foolish, unwise, thoughtless, not careful, or ignorant at some point. Everyone doesn’t have the same life experience or opportunities. If someone did something foolish a decade ago, or says something foolish today, resist the temptation to blackball them forever. You can’t live in a state of Oneness if you kick everyone out of your tribe. If someone isn’t in your tribe, let it be because they chose not to be, not because you closed the door to them. Otherwise that’s one less teacher you have to learn from.
- See the big picture. We are the totality of our existence, not one piece of it. You are much bigger than your childhood, job, gender or anything. You are the entire ocean not just one drop in it. See that. See that in others. The difference are the spices, not the entree.
- Seek diversity. Travel. Do things that are outside your comfort zone. Eat new foods. Watch different movies. Explore different faiths. Be curious. Talk to people who are different than you. The more familiar you are with the world, the more confident you will be.
- Look for commonalities. We have more in common with others than we have differences. When we see the ways we are the same, it minimizes the gap between us.
- Release judgments. The quickest way to be less offended is to stop taking offense. If you look at the photo of the eggs, most are roughly the same color. There is one white one and one light one. The white and light ones are only “other” if we say they are. Don’t see the slight and none will exist.
- Neutralize insults. Women are sometimes disparagingly referred to as jezebel, crone, or hag. I take all those as compliments. If it’s appropriate, I explain why those are powerful symbols. The power of words lies with the definer. Stack the deck in your favor and you’ll take away the power of others to hurt you.
- Learn social skills. More skills give you more options and confidence.
- If it’s appropriate, use othering experiences as teaching moments. If you see it happening or it happens to you, pause. Talk about your perceptions and your feelings. Make suggestions on how to improve going forward.
- Share yourself. If you are around people who don’t know your story, they may not have imagined life through your eyes. The more versions of human experience that we have, the more understanding we can be. This works generally and with you in particular. For example, if I have never met anyone who has a Lamborghini, I may have all kinds of misperceptions about what that’s like. Enlighten me.
- Accept people as they are. Don’t expect them to know your rules or embrace your rules. They have their own rules. As long as they don’t encroach on you, they are okay. You’re okay. Everybody is okay.
- See the light in everyone. We all have it. We all come from the same source. Sometimes things happen to people that make them forget their light, but we all have it. When you can see it, they see it reflected back to them. This is a huge and instant uniter.
- If you have a trauma history, get help. With trauma, all bets are off. Your body won’t cooperate with you and you may have a hard time doing any of these things.
It’s not easy to stop othering. We are taught to see reality as an antagonistic duality system that perpetuates the illusion of separateness. If you truly believe in sovereignty, connection, and Oneness, keep fighting the fight. Othering separates you from yourself.