Jo de Blois
The World Through Other's Eyes
Updated: Jun 14, 2021
What makes us the way we are?
Some people say that the way we see and describe the world around us is not the way the world actually is. It is the way that we are. It is our view of reality that is shaped by the culture in which we grew up, our community around us, and our life-experiences.
1. Macro level: The way we view the world is largely based on our culture. I have lived on four different continents in my life. On every continent, people looked different, spoke differently, dressed differently, thought differently, and were shaped by different values. For example, in some cultures, community and friends are a marker of importance, rather than financial means. In other cultures, hard work and material possessions are way more important than community, and friendships and family bonds are traded in for long work days. Another example is that in some cultures, being a real man means being nice, kind, and having high level of integrity and helpfulness. In other cultures, being a man means you look strong, speak loudly, and chase women around.
2. Meso level: The way we view the world is based on our community. A second level that influences our worldview is our community, namely the people that we associate with or the family in which we are born. For example, if we are born into a higher social class and have significant wealth, we are more likely to shy away from socialistic politics than if we are poor and on a low income. If we come from a large, traditional family in which the parents are still together, we are more likely to value family bonds than when we are coming from a family in which both parents work, or are no longer together.
3. Micro level: The way we view the world is based on our personal life experience. The last level of influence is the closest to home. It is the personal level of our character, and the way that our personal life experiences have shaped our character. Our character as well as our life-experiences influences the choices that we make. For example, if we are extraverted, we may be more influenced by our friendships than if we are introverted, and we prefer to stay home with a good book. Another factor is our life experiences. Someone who has just recovered from a serious illness will value life differently than someone who has never been sick. There are many big and small factors that shape us and that shape the way we look at life. This makes us all unique individuals.
The categorization of the world
God is the cause of the many unique cultures and worldview of this world. Long ago, people were clustered together in one large group with one common language and one common value: to be like God. God ended this collaborate endeavor by spreading the people throughout the world (read Gen. 11). He did that by creating boundaries between communities, separating people by different languages. Those who spoke the same language clustered together and formed a community, created values and identities, and formed a society. Different societies were kept apart by different languages so that communication and understanding of the other became very difficult. If you were in community X, everyone who spoke the same language and thought and acted according to the values of community X was the "in-group." Everyone who did not adhere to the values of community X was the "out-group." And with this, the concept of group identity was created.
Not much has changed since Babel. Even though many people in the world speak the same language again (Chinese, English, and Spanish being the most dominant languages), we still draw boundary lines between who belongs to us and who does not belong to us. People who seem different than we are, we "other." They are in the "out-group." They are treated with suspicion and some distrust, for we do not know how they might influence us negatively. Often, when people think or act differently than we do, we think something is wrong with them. For example, if Christians around us don't vote the same way as we do, we think something may be wrong with their biblical standards or their personal faith. Or, when people cannot climb up the social ladder, we may think that their work-ethic is different, inferior from our own work-ethic.
If categorization is universal, why is it so dangerous?
Although social boundaries are universal and cannot be avoided and God enforced boundaries at times for his purpose (Babel, the setting apart of Israel), making social boundaries can be a serious sin. Boundaries lead to discrimination and may lead to violence, war, and great injustice.
1. Macro-level: The sin of cultural othering.
We are all familiar with structural discrimination on macro-level, namely among the cultures of this world. The history of the USA is marred by structural discrimination and violence toward the other in which other cultures were oppressed or forced to change into the culture of the oppressor. In South-Africa, the Apartheid marked a separation largely based on fear of the other color taking over the land. In Israel and the Palestinian Territories, fear of the other culture is very prevalent. In many African countries, different clans had tattoos to distinguish the one from the other. If the other would cross the territory of a neighboring clan, he or she would be killed or tribal wars would break out.
2. Meso-level: The sin of discrimination.
We all witnessed up close how othering leads to discrimination and violence at meso-level. We have seen this in the classes of political parties in 2020. We have the systemic violence in the U.S.A, the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Proud Boys. But also closer to home have we chosen Christian businesses to mow our lawn and to fix our air-conditioning, rather than secular companies. We have othered on a daily basis, creating boundary lines in our communities, neighborhoods and living spaces based on our preferences.
3. Micro-level: The sin of preferences.
We have othered on micro-level as well. He have made choices who we invite to our coffee morning and who we did not invite. We have othered by choosing which colleague we tell that there is carrot cake in the kitchen, and who we have kept this interesting piece of information from. We have decided not to call our one friend back although we returned the call of the other friend immediately. We have cut lines in our days and in our hours, and some people were placed within these lines, others outside of them. Sometimes, we got away with it. Other times, this led to the hurt of feelings, the ending of relationships, and the strengthening of others.
Othering and fear are closely related
The othering by Jo
When I went through a time of great brokenness, I othered people who appeared proud to me. I did that because I felt looked down upon, inferior, and threatened. It was wrong that I othered, for I judged these people based on my own fear. I learned that my othering is most prevalent and destructive when I am unstable in myself. When I do not know who I am, and the value that I hold, I fear those who may devalue me. I shut people out whom I do not feel safe with with defensive walls to preserve myself.
The appropriation by Jesus
Jesus was not affected by boundaries at all. Jesus was a holy one but did not create a community of other holy ones, distrusting the sinners. Jesus did the opposite of othering. Every day Jesus stepped over boundary markers that people placed and he found people other than himself to include. Why could Jesus do this? Jesus was strongly rooted in his identity. Jesus knew that nobody could shake who he was, namely the Son of God. Jesus knew that nothing that would happen in the world would challenge him or hurt him and that is why he did not have to build a defensive wall around him. Jesus was strong. Rooted. His identity was in God.
How to resist othering
Resist fear by being strong in the Lord and in who he has made you.
Having a strong identity means that you are confident in who you are, how God has made you, and is using you for his kingdom. Having a strong identity means that you don't have to bring other people down to think better of yourself. That you don't feel threatened by the opinions and views of others around you. A strong identity means that if you are wrong, you correct your mistake without becoming defensive or self-loathing. Having a strong identity means that you know that Jesus loves you, this you know, for the Bible tells you so.
Understand yourself and be humbly ready to change your view.
Understand yourself --> evaluate your actions --> change --> be better
When we understand the way we think of the other person, and how this understanding originates from our past, or personal judgments, and subjective bias, we suddenly become agents over our thoughts and our actions. We have control over what we think. When we have control, we can change the way we think and better ourselves.
Expose yourself to people who are different and cross those boundary lines.
When we have an invisible boundary in our head, we often act that boundary out visibly. For example, when we think: "that person is strange," we physically walk around him or her. What if we reverse what we feel inside? When we catch ourself thinking: "that person is strange," we do the opposite of what we feel we should do, and we approach this person. This way we show ourselves stronger than our impulses and we enter into new and unknown territory. And who knows how great this "strange" person is.
Does God other? Yes. Simplistically into two categories
Interesting how God others too. He does not other in dozens of social groups like we do. He just has two groups: MINE - SATAN'S. This is why he can say to a group of people: "They are mine," (John 17:10) and to the other, "You are of your father, the devil" (John 8:44). God sometimes categorizes these particular groups as RIGHT - LEFT, or SHEEP - GOATS or RIGHTEOUS - DAMNED. No complex social dynamics, Just two groups with alternate fathers. I wish I could see the world exactly in that black and white, simple way, and see all my spiritual brothers and sisters as one of my own.
Challenge: Write down 5 instances on how you appropriated and othered people during the day. Evaluate these boundaries. Did you create these categories intentionally? Were your motives selfish or for the good of the other? Can you justify your categories based on the Bible?