Embracing the Other

So go ahead and laugh all you want

I got my philosophy

And I trust it like the ground

That’s why my philosophy

Keeps me walking when I’m falling down

-Ben Folds

“The trouble with the world is that we draw the circle around our family too small.”

-Mother Teresa

A couple of months ago, I saw a really brilliant and moving talk on TED.com, entitled “Take ‘the Other’ to Lunch.” The speaker was Elizabeth Lesser, and she was fantastic. Something about her message, and the way she delivered it, influenced me so profoundly that it has become a part of my philosophy.

Ms. Lesser spoke about something that moved me deeply. She sees herself as having two personalities: the mystic, and the warrior. The mystic searches for spirituality, and the warrior “rolls her eyes” at this. The warrior is concerned with what is going on in the world right now, and doing something about it. It is very difficult to live with both the mystic and the warrior in the same body, to combine the “grit of the warrior with the grace of the mystic,” to live a spiritual existence while having the guts, the will and the energy to effect change in the world. Ms. Lesser mention Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa as examples of people who have achieved this synthesis. But she also points out that those figures were not born with special genes-we all have the capability to join the two sides of our nature, if we choose to make it happen.

Ms. Lesser then dicusses the deeply disturbing nature of the divisiveness we are experiencing between those of different beliefs. She refers to it as the “demonization of the Other.” This “otherizing” is very dangerous, because it drives us farther and farther apart from each other, and can lead to such insanity as, for example, the Holocaust.

Ms. Lesser discusses the “angry divisive tension in the air” that I know we are all keenly aware of right now. Political divisions are at a fever pitch right now. Sometimes it feels like we are fighting a war: a philosophical war between the “conservatives” and “liberals”. It makes me feel really down, to the point where I have become quite apathetic about even local politics, feeling that I can do little to nothing to effect change. We are going over and over the same damned issues: abortion, health care, taxes…there is a great divide over these issues that, often, feels too great to cross over.

Watching this talk gave me some comfort. Ms. Lesser suggests that you embrace “the other,” that person whose beliefs are so radically different from yours that you can’t even have a conversation with them. Her proposal is this: take “the other” to lunch. Sit down, over a good meal, and talk to this person. Find out what you really care about. Find the common ground. You and the other may spit nails at each other over Planned Parenthood funding, but may find that you both love puppies. When we humanize “the other,” it does much to bridge the divide. You stop looking at the other as some kind of alien, and see that they are a real person, with real feelings.

Granted, this is hard as hell. I have certainly had my own experiences with intense rage over political disagreements. I stopped watching the news because I was about to have a flippin’ meltdown from the stress.

I do believe, though, that this “embracing the other” is the way to save us from the extreme alienation that is occurring between people of different beliefs. I am doing my best to put this new philosophy of mine into practice. When am I drawn into philosophical or political disputes, whether in person or on the interwebz, I do my utmost to listen to all sides of an issue and to not react, but respond, with as much understanding as I can muster.

Ms. Lesser concludes witht this quote from the poet, Rumi: “Out beyond ideas of right-doing, and wrong-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

I’ll leave you with the TED talk that started this philosophical journey:


4 thoughts on “Embracing the Other

  1. Okay first I have to say that “the other(s)” makes miss Lost! 🙂 I love this and applaud your courage! I so relate warrior vs. the mystic. Currently dwelling as the mystic for the sake of balance. 🙂

  2. I love this! I too am often discouraged by the great divide between us all. I hope that we will all learn to include instead of exclude, listen instead of judge. I am thankful that I am learning to see “the others” in a new light and it is changing everything. Thank you for sharing this.

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