[Each] Otherness

In my last post, I talked a little about feeling on the outside. In the following days, I was met with some wonderful responses from others who also experience this issue, which is a fun, surprisingly inclusive twist on an emotion that is, by definition, alienating. This sense of connectedness–or the fact that when someone shares something deeply personal, others can still relate (albeit in their own way)–got me thinking and I’ve decided that today, I want to talk about the inside. More importantly, how our sense of “otherness” may be hindering us from getting closer to one another.

The “Us and Them” debate has gone on since the beginning of time (who knows–it may even be why our Neanderthal buddies didn’t make the cut), but there’s a very real danger in setting ourselves apart as “other.” Sure, feeling like you belong creates a safe space for our authentic selves, but it also builds a wall between us and anyone who we consider to be “them.” And our sense of inclusion on a small level might actually be hurting us on a much, much wider scale.

Now, regardless of what faith you may subscribe to, I’d like for you to take a moment and join me for a little thought experiment:

Has anyone read The Egg? If not, it’s a wonderful little story written by Andy Weir that examines our sense of oneness. In it, a man passes away only to meet God, face-to-face, and find that he is actually every incarnation of human that has ever existed (or will ever exist). That each of us is, in a way, just another step on our own evolutionary ladder–both hero and coward, victim and victimizer, king and vagabond alike.

How perfect is that? That every wrong that has ever been done to you was perpetrated by you upon yourself. Likewise every kind thing that you have ever done, you were also the recipient of.

What if we were truly the same?

Not just in a “we all bleed red” kind of way, either. How much more compassion do we have when we consider, not only that other people are like us, but rather that they are us?

Is it a little trippy? Yes. Do I believe that that’s actually the case? Maybe not, but how many times would you have behaved differently if you’d known that you would be on the receiving end of those actions? How much more patience would you have with someone if you considered that they are [lonely, insecure, lost, scared, grieving, emasculated, desperate, depressed, abandoned, what-have-you] rather than just [rude, inconsiderate, stupid, etc.]?

It’s said that we judge others based on their actions, but we judge ourselves based on our intentions, but if we looked at other’s intentions, we might find more peace and a lot less aggression. My brother-in-law and I had a conversation a little while ago about this guy that comes into his restaurant regularly, orders a beer, drinks it, and doesn’t tip. I told him that, in this situation, we have two options:

a) This guy is an asshole who spends $5 on a beer daily (when he could buy a 6-pack of the SAME beer at the grocery store for $10), takes up a table, and then leaves without tipping because he doesn’t care about other people–least of all his waiter.

b) This man is lonely. He may not have a lot of money, but it’s worth it to him to spend the $5 he can spare to come into a restaurant, be around other people, and for a little while forget that all he has to go home to is an empty house and 6 DVR’d seasons of Bones.

Now, I have no idea which is true. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter. If you’re the waiter and you decide that the situation is option A, then you’re going to be irritated, feel shafted, and act frustrated with this guy when he comes in. If you decide that this is scenario B, you’ll be happy to see him, kind to him when you serve him, and understanding when, despite your kindness, he leaves no tip.

In this situation, it doesn’t matter which, if any, is true–but the outcome for YOU has changed.

The way YOU feel has changed.

If everyone were to consider each other in a very real way–not just in a hypothetical “treat others as you’d like to be treated (except when they’re different from you or don’t like your God or like the wrong Presidential candidate)” kind of way–it would be a much kinder world. If you thought YOU would be told the harsh words you say about someone, you might not say them. If you thought YOU would receive that award (albeit in a different life), then you might be more proud of your peer’s accomplishments. If you thought YOU would either have been or eventually will be Jensen Ackles (or, better yetmarried to Jensen Ackles), you might not feel so jealous of celebrities in magazines.

You might also consider cutting people slack, feeding the homeless, taking in refugees, or handing out blankets this holiday season. If we can’t be kind to each other for the sake of being kind, let’s at least do it for selfish reasons and know that, it’s possible, we are the ones in need of patience, food, shelter, and warmth.

It’s okay to feel like you’re on the outside, but we can’t let our sense of “otherness” separate us further. We tend to get so holed up in our own little safe space of interests, passions, and opinions that we just add to the wall in between us and “them,” but it’s good to remember that just because you don’t agree with someone or can’t relate, doesn’t mean anything about them (or you) is inherently wrong.

Who knows, you may have even been “them” at some point in time.

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