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Embracing the “Other”

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As someone who is very interested in human nature, I find it fascinating to see how people perceive their world. At least in some ways, all people identify with some groups and some particular thought patterns. We all have at least a couple of these groups that we identify with very strongly, if not militantly! We may strongly identify ourselves as being part of one or more of the following groups. Here is a partial list (a complete list would go on ad infinitum):

  • Democrat
  • Republican
  • Libertarian
  • Rich
  • Working class
  • Middle class
  • Poor
  • Married
  • Single
  • Divorced
  • Swinger
  • Lover
  • American
  • Nationalist
  • Citizen
  • Undocumented Worker
  • Sybaritic
  • Idealist
  • Realist
  • Lazy
  • Hard-worker
  • Parent
  • Someone consciously choosing not to have children
  • Fun Loving
  • Serious
  • Sexually Active
  • Virgin
  • Introvert
  • Extrovert
  • Religious
  • Spiritual
  • Agnostic
  • Atheist
  • Organic food eater
  • McDonald’s devotee

Because most of us are compartmentalizing our world so that we can make sense of it, give meaning to our lives, and find our place in it, identifying with any particular group is not inherently problematic. Of course, if we are identifying with a group that is based on cruelty or hate, it is problematic.

Groups such as the Nazis, child abusers/pornographers, or pro-slavery movements are clearly, inherently, and deeply perverse and unsound. The ethical nature of some groups may be less clear than the aforementioned. Those who identify with groups such as the pro-choice or anti-abortion movements, meat eaters, or pro-war or anti-war movements may be muddy morally for some. For the sake of discussion, I will leave those more controversial group identifications on the back burner for today.

The beauty of recognizing who the “other” is in your world is that you now have a chance to heal that perception and love yourself and others more profoundly. If we are really spiritually one, loving your sisters regardless of their identifications seems to be essential in getting off the karmic wheel. Most of us are committed to loving more deeply.

Loving our world’s “other” may be a step in our spiritual journey that will take us to a more profound level of spiritual development. In fact, someone who has an opposing view or group identification offers us the ability, through contrast, to arrive at a clearer understanding of ourselves and our viewpoints. For example, if we alienate others because they have a different religious belief than we do, we lose the opportunity to understand another powerful point of view. We can’t enjoy a spirited debate and certainly not a nice meal afterwards!

I am particularly saddened by The United States’ treatment of our Mexican undocumented workers. As a nation, it seems to me that we have scapegoated these beautiful people as the “other.” I realize that some of you might disagree with me, and that’s okay! I am not Mexican, but I love the Mexican culture and Spanish language (in fact, I’m still trying to learn it at forty-two!). I sometimes think of how hard the undocumented workers work and how much they have given to the United States. If my next-door neighbors, who do so much for me, needed a meal or some help, I would provide it. I see our Mexican neighbors in the same way. However, as I have become older, I choose not to make those who are anti-immigration my enemy (or the “other”). I recognize that would just close the door on a healing conversation. Further, if anti-immigration proponents think I am otherwise a sound and insightful human being, they just might reconsider their position, or at least a question mark may get planted!

A healing exercise you may consider is writing a letter (not to be sent) to the “other.” It may be to a group, a thought system, or to the black sheep of your family. Write the letter in detail. Then go back and write “I” in place of their name or group. In what way is this unacceptable “other” a part of you? If you are look very carefully, you will find some aspect of this unacceptable “other” that is also true for you.

Carl Jung developed the concept of the Shadow Self. This concept describes that we cut parts of ourselves off and make them unacceptable, denying their existence. The funny thing is, the unacceptable parts don’t just go away—they become a part of our shadow identity, hidden often even to ourselves.

For example, a homosexual person may decide they can’t be open about their sexual identity because of society’s extreme prejudice towards this often “other” group. They may not even allow themselves to think of themselves as gay. They may then carry this unacceptable (to them) sexual identity in their shadow self. The shadow may appear, ironically and tragically, as prejudice and cruelty to gay people.

Can you imagine what the world would look like if we were able to embrace most of our “others”? Can you imagine what peace it might bring to the alienated? Can you imagine the peace and harmony you might find?


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