“The question involved here is the question of The Other – The being who is different from yourself. This being can be different from you in its sex; or in its annual income; or in its way of speaking and dressing and doing things; or in the color of its skin…” strongly stated Ursula K. Le Guin, a woman author who wrote the article American SF and the Others.
My understanding of “otherness” is simply a combination of the factors that make each person a unique individual. Anyone can be labeled as an “other” due to their differences. Too often people don’t take the time to get to know one another. If at first glance, during a quick introduction, a person looks, acts, talks, or thinks differently than ourselves, our brains automatically create assumptions to fill our lack of knowledge in regards to their unfamiliarity. This is no one’s fault. Our human brains are programmed to notice and recognize certain things, which at times creates an involuntary act of judging. The fault with passing judgment on others is that humans are imperfect and sometimes we make the wrong assumptions or are stuck with our preconceived ideas about a person and/ or group of people. Subconsciously our ideas form immediately upon having a brief encounter with “the other.” At times, we have been previously influenced with biased representations shown of “the other” on social media, the news, or on television shows. Too often readers and viewers don’t get enough background information on who the individual is and what their specific strengths and abilities may be. What is often shown to us isn’t demonstrated with the goal to inform us about other people, but instead often only strengthens stereotypes. Maybe one feels that if they truly know a person they would never label them as “the other”, but this is only accomplished through taking enough time and effort to truly get to know the other person and not to focus on differences, but instead on our many common characteristics and ways in which we are all the same.
Addressing the Issue:
A suggestion in order to fight off misconceptions, misinterpretations, and misunderstandings of another human being is to become well informed. If there is not a lot of diversity where you live, try to travel and explore. To clarify, although taking a trip to another state, or better yet, another country, would help you expand your knowledge about other people, I also mean to travel in a figurative way. Media is influencing the minds of many people. Make sure you are open to a variety of cultures, and simply watch different people. Watch unfamiliar news channels, even those with opposite political views. Watch movies that have male and female leads. Watch historic documentaries, cultural documentaries and continental documentaries. Watch videos, informative Ted Talks, and anything that truthfully shows and represents the many “others” whose lifestyles, attitudes, cultures, experiences, appearances, sex, gender identifications, and religious beliefs differ from that of your own and those around you. Read, with an open mind, about other cultures and history all over the world. Don’t let people who are similar to you, or those you have been surrounded by the majority of your life, take advantage of your “naivety” and turn it into “ignorance.” Do not allow others to close your mind and to instill a sense of fear or lack of trust in whom they believe “the other” is. On a small scale, we may recognize this type of thinking in ourselves, but if we don’t act on these thoughts or feelings, we may not be aware enough to identify our own prejudicial behavior. On the flipside, there are those who are more aware of and comfortable with their thoughts and emotions. These insightful people may start by deeply thinking about the differences of another person, “the other”, with whom they have had interactions with. They may realize that they don’t understand “this person or those people”, but they are open to learning and experiencing the attributes that make this person unique and favorable. They see differences as a positive and beautiful thing. Frequently we replace the word “different” with opinionated words, such as bad/good, big/small, and inferior/superior. As a result we become more prone to strong feelings of fear, hatred, amazement, awe, or love, and are more likely to act upon our emotions. This is what causes people to write and say racist, prejudiced, homophobic, and sexist things. In contrast, it also inspires people to reach for the goals of freedom, fairness, and acceptance of all, often protesting or marching for those who are treated unfairly. One may belittle their own self-worth by choosing to idolize or worship another human being, as well, because of their differences. They see the other as superior to themselves, causing them to go to extremes in regards to another person’s worth. Whenever we end up choosing to believe unfounded thoughts about an individual before getting to know who they truly are, we are putting that person in a box, and we are limiting ourselves from experiencing the genuine attributes that the person possesses. It cuts off all hopes of creating a deeper understanding based on reality, not our fictional creation.
If we hold someone to a certain expectation of being completely different, unrecognizable, or unfamiliar from that of ourselves, we end up desensitizing the fact that there is a person, just like us, behind the “mask of difference.” We end up causing “the other” to replace their identity. Anyone is able to put someone else in a greater of lesser category in their own mind. We are all equally important, with or without differences. Ironically, to someone else, you may even be considered “the other”. When you find yourself constantly looking for extreme differences to justify your own non-acceptance, you are taking away the fact that we are all humans with innate value and purpose in life.
Get rid of the patronizing notion that different races and groups of people are negative, and replace it with the fact that we are all part of the human race. Women need to be truly allowed and encouraged to pursue empowering positions as well, without constantly dealing with strong belittlement, excessive scrutiny, and sexism from people of both genders. When minority groups are represented and shown as empowering, successful and intelligent people, we will further be able to recognize that the false sense of superiority is diminishing. The only way that we will all become truly united, equal, and liberated is to share the common mentality to support those we may see as “others.”