The human race is not a jigsaw puzzle. We’re not perfectly shaped pieces that all fit into a greater whole, together forming a perfect image. Instead whether by grace, fate, or coincidence, depending on your beliefs we are jagged-edged oddities, each one misshapen and clunky, each one reaching out for a sense of belonging.

We all have our flaws. That’s common knowledge, sure, but something that can’t be repeated enough. And probably one of the human race’s worst tendencies  if not the worst tendency  is our terrible urge to tribalize. To fragment. To sort ourselves into categories. To differentiate between a supposedly good, just, and moral “us”… and to then contrast this so-called us against a diametrically opposed “them,” who is supposedly unkind, unjust, and immoral.

This line of thinking bottles entire groups of people according to a handful of exaggerated traits, ripping away each person’s individuality. Thankfully, human language has also given us a term to bottle such behavior into, and that term is prejudice.

It’s an ugly word, isn’t it? But a fittingly ugly word, for an equally ugly behavior.

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Every day, all across the world, we see entire groups of people boxed into the “Other” label. We see racism. Sexism. Homophobia. Class warfare. Liberals and conservatives scream obscenities at each other. Religious groups pigeonhole other religious groups according to their most extreme members. Belief systems are mocked. The older and younger generations both blame each other for society’s woes. The sick, the disabled, and the mentally ill are written off as less than human. When you’re at work, even first shift and second shift always blame everything on each other, or perhaps both of them blame it all on third shift. In each case, it all comes down to one group blaming their problems on a monstrous Other.

Here’s the truth, though. The brutal truth.

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The Other is exactly like you. In both a cosmic sense and a physical one, every single member of the Other a carbon-based lifeform, a fleshy sack of muscles, bones, and tendons wrapped up in skin, combined with hopes, dreams, and perhaps a soul has more in common with you than you can possibly imagine.

The Other has reasons for the way they think. The Other can’t control the social, environmental, or genetic features that have determined their birth, beliefs, and appearance. To write off the Other is to believe that your narrow view of the world, so much of which has been determined by your surroundings and personal history, is the only view that matters. It’s hard to get more solipsistic than that.

There is no Other. The Other is you.

The Other - Shadow - Stranger

When you travel around the world, when you go from developed nations to third world countries, when you see the rich and the poor, one lesson that hammers itself home forever is the fact that no matter where you go, people are always the same. People are people. People laugh, cry, and dream. Children play games. Families eat together.

Perhaps ending tribalization is impossible. It’s been a part of human civilization since the beginning, after all. But if we at least attempt to recognize it any time it rears its ugly head, to see it in our world instead of denying that it exists, we can start moving in the right direction. If we fight back against the voices that tell us to segment, to stereotype, to pigeonhole, then we can properly open up the floor for real discussions that need to be had.

If each of us makes the best effort we can to accept others who have opposing viewpoints, backgrounds, and beliefs, then maybe there’s a chance of breaking down the boundaries.

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23 thoughts on “The “Other” is Not the Enemy

  1. Eye-opening philosophical and sociological presentation. The good news is that one day, other than the pockets of die hard segregationists, that are sure to exist for centuries to come, most physical “differences” will be bred out of the “human race “.

    • That is true, and a good point. I do think that on a macro-scale view of history we can see an overall trend of progression towards more acceptance of other values, and now that the world is increasingly globalized, it means more and more people are constantly going to be exposed to other “types” of people, other value systems, and other cultures in such a way that they can’t just close their eyes and live in a bubble anymore. That said, in society today, there’s definitely still an enormous amount of prejudice, victim-blaming, disenfranchisement, and so on that deserves constant attention.

  2. Very interesting – thank you for sharing. Also thank you for following my blog. I certainly will take the time to visit yours as well. I hope your day is a happy one! 🙂

  3. The problem with a lot of people is that they have their views and no matter the logic or evidence of the other side, they refuse to modify their thoughts. Flexible minds debating things will be infinitely better but that would mean people thinking for themselves and governments and religions don’t want this, in fact no group with an entrenched opinion does in case their views are eroded.

    Talking to people of opposite thoughts and getting to know the as people helps one understand them, so really integration would be the best way forward.

    • Absolutely agreed in every way. Or, to quote a certain great mind from the past:

      “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle

      • That was a lot more succinct than my effort. I quite like a good argument, either people’s points strengthen my conviction in what I say or test the validity of my views and see if my case is erroneous in any way. Either way it is good for the mind.

  4. Top post.
    Nice use of Von Hagens (sp?)
    Emotions are universal, yet we manage to cling to that archaic tribalism, the Other you reference. Unfortunately it’s inescapable thus far (for most) and is also a universal phenomenon. The brain is designed to pit itself against people and ideologies, the same as it is designed to stick to the in-group following social identity theory.
    Sadly not many manage to develop their thinking to the point where they hold few prejudices rather than many. Some is ingrained, developed etc through societal norms while others are personal.
    Nihilistic (although I’d call it realistic), I am certain we will never collectively develop global empathy before we have destroyed the planet or each other, although things like the internet are certainly catapulting us forward.
    There are so many variables at play that lead to narrow mindedness it’s impossible they will be diluted as quickly as most sensible people would like, but we can try.

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