adjective and pronoun
1. used to refer to a person or thing that is different or distinct from one already mentioned or known about.
1. view or treat (a person or group of people) as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself.
Other is a dangerous word. It is a descriptive word, used to delineate the difference between two things. “Can you bring my my other jacket?” would be a good example of this usage. The word other can, however, be used as a verb. It can be an action. People groups can be ‘othered’ by noting a distinction between us and them, and separating people into different sub groups.
I say that ‘other’ is a dangerous word because of its use as a verb. When we ‘other’ people who are not like ourselves, we create dangerous divisions in our sphere of influence. This can be seen in an elementary school lunch room, as groups begin to form based on social rank or special interest groups. To an extent ‘other-ing’ is a natural action, resulting from shared interests and perceived equality. A group of people who enjoy D&D will naturally attract others who enjoy D&D and will likely passively drive away those with little interest in the game. Conversely, this group would likely accept new members who are interested in learning more about D&D. This group isn’t particularly dangerous or harmful, as the separations are voluntary and peaceful.
When a group is actively ‘other-ing’ those around it, however, the practice becomes much more dangerous. An example of this would be a group that requires members to be of a certain ideology or religion. An elementary lunch table that decides that those with brown hair are not welcome to eat with them is a simplistic example of this kind of ‘other-ing’. \
A perhaps even more dangerous example of ‘other-ing’ is our current political situation. This is often done in such a way that we are lead to believe that it is for our own good. “Those people are taking our jobs! ” is often a common refrain of this political grouping. Another battlecry of this group might sound something like “We can’t trust those people to come in to our country. They all practice a religion of violence!”
Groups like this build figurative walls (and perhaps the less imaginative ones try to build actual walls) to keep the other out.
Now, let me make an important distinction here. Political ‘Other-ing’ is an action taken on a large scale. I am not suggesting that refusing a person who is known to behead others, or a person who is known to desire to cause serious destruction to ‘us’ should be permitted through our borders. What I am suggesting is that disqualifying an entire group of people because of the actions of a minority is inappropriate.
When we broadly ‘other’ groups of people that are not like us, we create an incredibly dangerous precedent. Even if we ignore the harm caused to the group we are currently ‘other-ing’ we are setting ourselves up for a fall.
What is to prevent you from someday being ‘othered’? If we live in a world where ‘other-ing’ is an acceptable political or social tool, you have to accept that one day, you too may be judged to be something else and unworthy of the rights and privileges afforded to those who are not different. In WWII, American citizens suddenly found themselves in internment camps, simply because of their ethnicity.
It could be as simple as the region you live in. It could be the color of your hair. It could be the slant of your eyes, or the accent with which you speak.
If ‘other-ing’ is an acceptable practice in the world we live in, you are at risk of being ‘othered’. There will be no defense.
We even see an example of ‘other-ing’ in the Bible. After Jesus accession, the church began to grow rapidly. There were days when the church grew by the thousand after a single sermon. It was a wild time, but the growth in the church was limited to those of the Jewish faith. If you were a Gentile, a person who perhaps even lived in the same area as the Jewish people, but came from a different ethnic background, you could not join the church of the day. Even if you wanted to live your life exactly like Jesus was asking you to, you were unable to join the church because of your ‘unclean’ birth.
Eventually, the Apostle Peter was given a dream of clean and unclean animals that God used to reveal to the church at large that ALL were included in Jesus offer of forgiveness. God intervened to remove the division between the Jew and the Other.
Take a look at Acts 10, and then think about the actions our political leadership has taken in the past. (I don’t just mean the current administration, but every administration.) Judge for yourself if Jesus would consider those actions just.
Be sure to check out the other people on the journey with me at 254peace.org, or on our Facebook page. There are some awesome people participating this year, and they all have something important to say.