The Other as a Mirror

The Other as a Mirror

The Other and Othering is a dynamic and challenging subject area. During the turbulent global atmosphere in which we are living, the Other is the holder of all that a person, community, or culture is unable or unwilling to own about himself or herself. Let me explain what I mean and the ways we can do our inner work to shift our perspectives.  

Human beings distance themselves, emotionally, physically, and psychologically from things, situations, people, opinions, and places they do not like including aspects of ourselves. We all do this in many different ways and to varying degrees. Most of the time human beings are not even fully aware of this most basic of human traits. Distancing ourselves allows us to observe differences. Anthropologists’ separate themselves from the people, cultures, rituals, and traditions of peoples or groups that they are observing in order to remain objective. Even though there is no such methodology, which is truly objective. After all, we take ourselves and therefore the way we view and navigate the world along with us everywhere we go. Every human being had a childhood and during that childhood, we learned things about ourselves which we liked or didn't, about how to behave in the world or not, and as a result, learned what makes us comfortable or uncomfortable. Our experiences to an extent shape our worldview, our biases, and our values.

Reality television is based on the human fascination of watching other human beings in order to determine what is normal behavior or not, people similar to us, and those who are different. Although reality television is quite the oxymoron, as there is nothing real about being monitored 24/7 and knowing every action is being critiqued. However, in theory, under normal circumstances, watching others and seeing ourselves in them or not as is often the most immediate case, is a deeply ingrained human trait and way of being in the world. If you immediately recognize this trait in yourself, you’d likely call yourself a “people watcher.” Our human fascinations with each other lead to the first reality show Big Brother that aired on Dutch television in 1999. The show was a massive success and spawned a whole new genre of television, reality TV. After all, viewers in Europe were invited into the private lives of a group of people they would not under any circumstances have access to view. We lived in the Dutch capital Amsterdam for several years so I can give you two pieces of insider information about why the show was so unusual for Dutch culture. First of all, the Dutch have a saying “there is nothing as strange as normal human behavior” which is very funny because it is so true! And secondly, and this is often a misunderstood cultural norm, the Dutch leave their curtains open, but not because they want you to look in, in fact looking into someone else’s house is considered extremely rude. No, the Dutch leave their curtains open to prove that they have nothing to hide. Think more like… “nothing happening here folks, move right on along.” So while homes have curtains open at night and lights on, people are expected notto look, and certainly not stare.

 Differences are part of human existence. However, when we highlight the differences as a means of elevating ourselves above someone else, our observances go from one of curiosity to one of separation and thus judgment. Creating an “Other” instantly separates people into groups, “us” and “them.” Eckhart Tolle also believes, “the way in which you perceive the other is determined by your own thought forms.” The way we approach people, cultures, religions that are another version of the human experience than us, says a lot about ourselves and less about them. 

Throughout human existence, human beings seeking dominance over others first have to vilify them. One way to vilify a human being is by making them “less than” human. So in order to create a status or an Other onto which we project things/ aspects/ traits/ biases/prejudices etc. that we deem unworthy, unclean, or simply put another way, unlovable. The process of vilification is one of the primary tools of colonization, white supremacy, religious superiority, binary gender, and hetero dominance. Vilification can happen to either individuals or groups of people, in either case, the purpose is to isolate and victimize.  

Dehumanizing or Othering individuals have lead to wars, genocide, slavery, segregation, elitism, and human trafficking to name but a few. Othering says that someone else is not as important as we are. We all look and seek people who are like ourselves and more often than not, not as a way of discrimination but in order to belong and feel connected to like-minded individuals. However, we often have a lot more in common with people than we realize and diversity enriches our limited human experience.

When we divide groups of people and create an us and them situation, it automatically assumes that one side is good and the other side bad. That one side is in, the other out, one side is right, the other wrong. This is a deliberately binary system, meaning two-sided and an only two-sided system was set up in Western culture a long time ago. Does this binary system still serve us in 2019? Are there really only two ways anymore? Two of anything anymore? I don’t think there ever was. 

 At both the 2018 and 2019 US National Popular Culture conferences, the subject of the Other arose on many different discipline panels, indicating that the subject of the Other is very much on the mind of the collective (representing many individuals). My paper focused on the current political climate and on those who have been marginalized but who are stepping forward out of the shadows at this time in order to be seen and heard. Other ethnicities, Other religions, Other gender expressions, Other sexual orientation identities, Other ecologies, and Other forms of intelligence. The fact is, the Other has always been there, they’ve just been relegated to the shadows. 

 Everything and everyone we are drawn to or repelled by is, in fact, a mirror of our own inner dynamics.

Exercise:

Think about two people, one you like and one you may not be so fond of or have difficulty in your relationship with.  Take two pieces of paper and list all the qualities you like about the person you admire or are fond of on one page. On the other sheet write all the qualities, aspect, and traits you don't like about your second person.

Look at each list and honestly see if you can see yourself in either of those lists. Can you? Was it easier to align with the “Like” list over the “Dislike” list? Pick one thing off your dislike trait list and be honest with yourself, where are you or have you been like that which you dislike? 

It can be very hard to own the parts of ourselves we don’t like, those parts that we may not even be aware of or we are aware of but are too afraid to admit. Looking at and integrating our shadow is deep but important work for we don’t just put what we don’t like in the shadow, it also holds our gold! 

Gratitude

Gratitude is such a rich and multifaceted subject. Scientists and academic researchers have spent a lot of money searching for answers as to the benefits of practicing gratitude. The subject of gratitude has enough material for multiple dissertations and plenty of research studies. But what is gratitude and why is it important for emotional, mental, and psychological wellbeing? 

 

Bees, Trees, and Non-Verbal Communication

“Honeybees know when you are anxious.” 

“Honeybees know if you just want to make money from their honey.”

“Honeybees know if you are in alignment with them.”

How do bees know that the people who approach them are anxious? How do they know what someone’s deeper intentions are regarding keeping and tending them? Bees have such an incredible hold on our psyches, so much so that many of the worlds’ mythologies have at least one bee story. 

This week bees have literally buzzed into our lives with the long awaited arrival of two hives. Over the years we have heard many a story from beekeepers about the intentionality of keepers and how bees instinctively respond. The first statement listed above was by an urban beekeeper neighbor who helped transfer the bees from their ‘nuc’ to their permanent wooden hives. The other statements were made by other beekeepers we know. The synchronicity surrounding non-verbal communication was obvious and thus continues the conversation from last week’s blog. 

My partner has an incredible affinity with bees. She whispers to them not in the way she did with our dog because she totally gets they are miniature wild creatures but as a way of being in conversation with them. She has been known to hold out her hand and have five crawl over her. Her affinity with bees reminds me of the beloved Idgie Threadgoode in the film Fried Green Tomatoes.  She approaches them with a completely open heart and they respond to her accordingly. Me, not so much. My caution started when I was seven and watched in horror as my younger brother was taken away in an ambulance after he went into anaphylactic shock due to a bee sting. I like bees and I absolutely respect them but I do not, as yet, have the same natural affinity with bees. Obviously, I need to spend time clearing the residual fear I have from that incident with my brother in order to open my heart to their incredible vibrational energy.  

Bees, like any other living, breathing entity on the planet, and including the planet, are made up of atoms. In other words we are all made up of energy, and that energy carries the vibration of intention and emotion. Think for a moment about someone who is sad, if we are able to place our awareness outside ourselves, then we will likely sense, see, or feel the other person’s emotional state before they confirm verbally. The same is true of someone who is happy or angry. Our emotions literally fill the space around our physical body and we carry that into and through our day into our: work, grocery stores, coffee shops, schools, and neighborhoods. I’m sure you’ve experienced the power that just one angry, sad, or happy person has on changing the feeling tone of a room. When lots of people emit the same emotional energy they create the feeling of a neighborhood, or area in a city, expanding out to an entire city or country. I’m sure you can think of your own examples of people or places, which make us, feel good, or uncomfortable, or which we enter with trepidation (or not enter if we are really honoring intuitive knowing).  

We also then carry our emotions into our natural environments and the interactions we have with gardens, forests, creeks, and animals. I use the words interactions withour gardens etc. deliberately. Whether or not we are aware, we are communicating or interacting with our natural world all the time. The trees in our yards and neighborhoods, the flowers, vegetable and herbs we grow are in constant communication with the humans that live in or visit the area. Animism is the term used to articulate the belief that every living thing, and even mountains and the wind, has a soul. While that may be a step too far for a lot of people, science proves that every living thing is made up of energy¾so use that as a starting point if you must. 

In 2018 Ikea, the big chain store, conducted a 30-day experiment in the United Arab Emirates. Ikea wanted to show the impact that our words have on recipients hearing those words and they conducted an experiment on plants. In short they set up two plants contained within separate glass containers. Children were encouraged to speak positively to one and negatively to the other. The results were astounding. In short, the plant that received direct positive affirmation thrived while the plant that received negative attention died. I’ve included the link below because it will give you a visual and time lapsed view of the literal impact we have on the environment we inhabit and how the energy we carry forward in the world interacts with all other living things: human, plant, animal, and mineral. What intention or emotion do you carry into the world around you? 

https://globalnews.ca/news/4217594/bully-a-plant-ikea/

Every time I set foot on my property, I look up and thank the Overstory trees that stand in a curve around the back of my house. Opening my heart I offer gratitude for their protection, for providing shelter to myself, the birds, the bees, and the creatures who live in our urban forest. Gratitude for the oxygen they provide, for helping cleanse the air of pollution from the nearby roads, for their strong roots that hold the earth and drink the excess water that comes from the watershed. 

Indigenous cultures and land-based communities understand the importance of living in reciprocity with the natural world around them. I’m not talking about trying to tame the wild places but to approach with an open heart, share, and take only what is needed; to give back and to offer gratitude. This approach is one of respect and equality with the natural world rather than dominance over it as is proclaimed in some of the world’s mythological and religious systems. It is the understanding that just because some folks can buy a million dollar teardown and clear-cut the land, doesn’t mean they should. Trees work together, they share a wind load when a storm comes through. Bees’ work together, there is no such thing as a hive with just one bee. Just as humans are both individual and communal beings, we are interconnected in ways that are invisible to the human eye but felt with the heart. 

Exercise: If you are willing, close your eyes; take a slow deep breath in and out. Place your hand upon your heart. Try both hands one at a time, one hand will feel more comfortable than the other. When you know which hand it is, take another few slow rhythmic breaths in and out. Ask yourself what does your heart feel. Can you open your heart to the energy in the room? Can you focus your attention on loving kindness or gratitude and make that feeling so full in your heart it resonates out into the world?