Moving Beyond “Othering”

A post by Tigerlilly’s Garden introduced me to the term othering. What is othering?

the othering process is the human tendency to believe that the group (race, religion, ethnicity, culture, gender, country, sexual orientation, species etc.) that they are a part of is inherently the ‘right’ way to be human.  As a consequence of this, people who other consciously, or subconsciously, believe that anyone who is not apart of their group is a threat, an enemy or a liability that must be converted to conform immediately to the norms and standards of their group, subjugated permanently, or eradicated completely…

The phenomenon of othering has its roots in our evolutionary history.  We know from primatological studies that group solidarity is exceptionally important in all of the African apes.  Knowing who is, and who isn’t a member of your group is exceptionally important for reasons intimately connected to survival.  And basic evolution theory states that any behaviour or trait that confers a survival advantage will be selected for; and the stronger the survival advantage, the stronger it will be selected for.  In the case of ‘othering’ behaviour, it probably became an extremely valuable behaviour that would have become permanently fixed within our lineage millions of years ago.  Whenever territory, food, and mates were scarce (which would have been frequently, and in most cases permanently), intra-species competition would have been strong and othering behaviour would have been selected for.  Forming a group can allow you to align yourself with other individuals altruistically to maximize your own (and everyone else in the groups) ability to acquire territory, food and mating opportunities.

It seems that at one point in our evolution othering served a purpose, but what role does it play now? My gut reaction is that othering is no longer serving our evolution. In fact I think it may be hindering us. What do we really need to compete for anymore? We have the intelligence, ingenuity and technology to do almost anything we set our minds to! Here’s another thing to think about, is there really one right way to be human? Biodiversity is a must in almost every single ecosystem on the planet. What makes us think we are any different?!

I like to use Tarot to not only reflect on my own life, but on bigger issues as well. Today I asked the question, What role does othering play in a consciously evolving society?

By consciously evolving I mean a society that is aware of its own evolution and how the process takes place. This is truly the first time in history where we have had the scientific knowledge to understand the finer points of how or intelligence and biology changes over time! In a way, we are now more accountable for what we are and what we will become. They say knowledge is power. I say knowledge is responsibility.

So here is the card I drew:

Past Card

The Ten of Wands.

Here are some of the keywords associated with this card: burden, responsibility, hard work, stress, achievement

Ten indicates the end of a cycle, the culmination of a lot of hard work beginning to pay off. Think of how far we’ve come in the last 10,000 years! We have introduced mass agriculture, created amazing art, built incredible civilizations, developed mind-blowing technology. Our species has truly shown that we are incredibly resourceful, resilient, clever and strong!

But…as I said above, with great power comes great responsibility. Our species is now beginning to feel the weight of the world on our shoulders. We are realizing that although we are clever, we are not wise. Although we are resourceful, we are not in harmony with the Earth. The stress of our success is beginning to take its toll and we can see the effects in the rise in anxiety disorders, depression, wars, terrorism and disease. The work of carrying on this way is becoming oppressive.

This card urges us to stop and examine where we are. Are the burdens we are carrying necessary? Do we really need to continue on this way? Is there a better, lighter way to travel forward as a species?

I think there is.

It seems that othering will have to be replaced by a more communal, global identity. I’m not talking about a global political structure (no thank you!), I’m talking about a global brother/sisterhood where small “tribes” of people look after one another and trade with other tribes. It’s a concept I initially heard about in the book Beyond Civilization by Daniel Quinn. This is only one possible approach, but I believe it is worth entertaining since it is obvious change is inevitable.

After reflecting on the global state of affairs I wondered about my role as an individual. I believe the individual has a powerful role to play in the conscious evolution of our species.

My next question to the cards was this: What can the individual do to evolve beyond limiting behaviors like othering?

Past Card

The Chariot.

Key words for this card are: control, will power, victory, assertion, determination

The message of the Chariot is overcoming obstacles through strength of will and determination. If we are to move beyond the limitations of othering we will have to recognize and actively make changes to our habitual tendencies. All too often we are just along for the ride. We react to things rather than anticipate them. Most of human interaction is a sort of tensed up knee-jerk reaction to one another. Most of us are defensive, self-centered and materialistic and then we have the audacity to expect others to be that way, too! In order to cultivate a global community focused on healing, harmony, peace and brotherhood we have to take the reigns and steer our lives in that direction. That means you and me, the individual, must learn to treat people with more trust, respect and love.

This is what Brigid from has to say about the wisdom of the Chariot:

Sometimes, the Chariot asks you to come to terms with your own aggressive impulses. Aggression is part of human nature, part of your innate survival mechanism. Aggression cannot be simply suppressed; to do so will only turn it inward on yourself, leaving it to manifest itself in the form of physical illness. Aggression can be very destructive but it is also a powerful energy that can be channeled creatively. This is a time when you need to be the master of your emotions and curb any impulses or anger. You need to show who is the boss and achieve control of the situation but this will also require you to be in control of yourself.

So what do you think? What role does othering play in your life? Are you satisfied with where it is getting you? Is there a better way to live? Please comment I’m dying to know what others think of othering!




11 responses to “Moving Beyond “Othering”

  1. An interesting post, indeed. I’d like to think I’m already on my way to transcendence of othering, at least in my ‘work life.’ So often I hear servers making ‘others’ out of “bad tippers”, based on nothing but a less-than-expected tip. I try to embrace those ‘others’ and figure out what I could have done better to get a bigger tip (if I think it was deserved). I’m most happy when a server is grumbling about a bad tip BEFORE the tip comes, ranting about why the evil ‘other’ at table 506 is so evil (small penis, angry boss, etc), when all of a sudden – bam – still got a great tip. I can only smile. I digress – but a great post will do that to me from time to time.


    • I don’t know if transcending othering is even necessary, or fully possible. I’d like to think of it as learning to funnel this kind of energy in a creative, nonviolent, non harming way, much the way Brigid talks about aggression.
      I appreciate your comment, Erich. I encourage you in your efforts to embrace the “others”. It’s especially important because you are doing it at your place of work. As “middle class workers” we have the tendency be negative in the workplace out of frustration, lack of freedom, boredom…etc. I commend you for your positive attitude and optimism and I have seen how it is spreading around you. I think you can impact people in your presence more than you even realize.

  2. I think in order to transcend this “othering” outlook on life is to be empathetic. Take a look at who you are now and who you were 10 years ago. Most likely your past self would be an “other” to you if you ran into yourself on the street. Instead of being off put by the way someone lives or carries themselves, by their particular role in your life, maybe this might have been you, or could eventually be you. Also, how many people are “othering” you right now…how does that make you feel?

    • I often think about me 10 years ago. I am so different I probably wouldn’t recognize my own thoughts back then. I like to think I am much stronger and wiser now and that I am also less codependent.

      As far as how it feels to be othered? Oh man I don’t like it! I paint children’s faces at the local Farmer’s Market and last week a couple of girl scouts showed me where the bathrooms were. They took my hands and led me across the street. Before I could realize what was happening one of their mom’s was all over me, basically accusing me of taking her children! It was so heart breaking to realize that she thought I was evil enough to somehow hurt or steal these sweet kids. I was so distraught i didn’t know what to do. I apologized and tried to explain, but she just kept saying “you need to walk away” and she had so much venom in her voice that I realized there was nothing I could do to convince her I wasn’t an evil kidnapper.

      Thankfully, synchronicity stepped in and one of the other mom’s ended up on my porch. A package meant for me was delivered to her by mistake. She took it as a sign to apologize for he way that other mom had treated me and I took it as a sign to explain my actions to someone who was calm and rational. Ultimately, I had faith in the universe and it worked out, but the experience stuck with me. Why did she assume the worst in me, even after I came over to explain and apologize? That was my most blatant experience with being “othered” to date!

  3. Pingback: Adopt an Attitude of Acceptance | joyful cacophony·

  4. How interesting! The othering comes from evolution, and it sounds so rational, so logical that I kind of understand why we still apply it. I believe that we are all connected, but it is a new concept and understanding for me, so new that I am just starting to understand it. I believe it yet I don’t know how to apply it or put into practice! Sometimes I feel so separated from others, that I don’t get why we were put together at the same place, same time. I try to think of the reasons why I meet who I meet, or why I run into the people I do. The thing is, when I don’t get an epiphany, or some feeling of connection, I just simply think I need to develop more sensitivity, or that I’m in diapers, and I have a long way to go. What do you think, Kay?

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