Thursday, May 10, 2012

Seeing 'the other' as vulnerable, talented and inspiring...not as threat

When we see others in a primarily negative or neutral light, rendering them less than they really are in our minds, we are conspiring in an equation of neurosis, to protect ourselves from being seen in any way that might draw out our better angels. When we see individuals in the same light as we see groups, tending to the lowest common denominator, and capable of little if any "good" in the highest sense of that word, we are falling into a trap of denial and illusion.
Other people, all of them, regardless of the colour of their skin, the language of the family of origin, the country of their birth, the church, synagogue, mosque or forest trail in which they worship what or whomever they consider to be their god, are very alone, very insecure, very conscious of their own insignificance and very much in both need for and desire of acceptance, appreciation, welcome, and connectivity. This is not only true for children and adolescents, and therefore requiring professional and specific policies and practices in schools by educators as it is for parents with their children; it is also true in neighbourhoods, villages, towns, cities and nations.
All of us have endured the separation from and possibly alienation from the people in our lives who ostensibly meant the most to us...our parents, grandparents, friends, colleagues and even siblings.
And much of our lives is spent attempting to reconnect to humans, in every corner of the planet.
This is not some "warm, fuzzy" story from a therapists theory and office; it is a profound and beating pulse of our existence.
And when the language, the looks, the attitudes, the policies and the regulations we practice, whether voluntarily or through the requirements of our work, for example, perpetuate that original alienation, for whatever reasons, we are committing acts of self-sabotage, without being consciously aware of what we are doing.
It was Thomas Hardy, and the 'fatalists' who penned words to the effect that "happiness is a brief relief in the general drama of pain"...and Jean Paul Sartre who penned the words to the effect that "Hell is other people!"
Many other writers have aligned themselves with the truth that life is a mini-drama of different pains, through which we inevitably grow. Loss of reputation, loss of income, loss of job, loss of spouse, children, friends...these are all the little dramas that we meet in our following the storyline of our few decades on the planet.
Within each of us is the survival instinct, including a competitive drive that brings us into conflict with others, sometimes legitimately, often illegitimately. In some cases there are known 'rules' and acceptable ways of competing; in others, there are none. However, we need not look too deeply into the central tenets of any faith to find an aspiration to "love our enemies" or to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" or some such aphorism.
In too many instances, these have become not only hollow words, without either pragmatic or spiritual meaning, and we are killing each other, not only on the many battlefields where we engage with weapons of human destruction, but also on the floors of many stock exchanges, in the courtrooms of many cities and countries, and in the back alley's of dark and dangerous streets.
Keeping some rein on the human capacity to fight, and to destroy, including the capacity to insult, demean, reject, alienate, and ostracise takes much more than any legal system has or will devise.
And as churches both abdicate and lose their cultural respect, and families splinter into fragments physically and emotionally and geographically, and schools concentrate on the "science" of knowledge, it is the responsibility of individuals to shore up, and to reinvigorate and to re-new the commitment to treat others respectfully and charitably, without using them for our power needs, for our competitive ambition needs, for our need for recognition through trophies (other people) and for our need for adulation, projected onto some public figure whom we have made into a "star".
It is not that we can or should deny our insecurities; that is impossible.
It is rather that we summon both the personal and the collective strength to grow a more comprehensive and thereby truthful picture of each other, as vulnerable, needy, interesting, complex and potentially dangerous.
Through such a picture of ourselves, we might come to "understand" the other in a somewhat more charitable and authentic manner. And through such a new perception, it just might be possible for each of us to recognize that 'the other' whom we are afraid of, whose attributes we detest, whose lineage we do not understand, whose faith we abhor, whose culture we find despicable is as weak, and as brilliant, and as talented and as ambitious and as needy for personal acceptance as we are, and thereby we might approach our "testaments" in a more light hearted, and forgiving manner, seeking to get to know, rather than seeking to destroy.
Only if and when we recognize the military armaments are a metaphor of our fear; and secret service empires are another of the many clothes worn by a naked emperor, and our detection ambitions and technologies are another of the "protections" that keep us from acknowledging just how isolated we are and thereby how powerless...will we, and all of the political entities in which we live, come to laugh at our insecurities, and in the words of a wise man, at the time a Lutheran pastor, who said, "We cannot surgically remove our demons, but we can tickle them and approach them with less fear!"

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