We talk now of the word other as a verb; othering–used to define treating people as different or inferior based on personal opinion, belief, or culture. It is that judgey social media voice that you find everywhere; from cooking blogs to twitter feeds; keeping the narrative all about who is right and who is wrong, what is good, what is bad, and then deepening the destruction of this mindset with the widening spiral of social media amplification.
We now feel the need to share our opinions as if they were deep knowledge, even if we just read this opinion from some reddit post of j_man32. If I see it online, it must be true, which we know isn’t true, but if it agrees with my predisposition, I feel totally justified somehow in judging whoever or whatever: black, white, men, women, nonbinary, conservatives, liberals, right wingers, whatever whatever, whatever.
Can we acknowledge that this othering can be the voice of collective trauma and the only way to heal is to turn towards each other, not away, and turn in with kindness, to really deeply listen to each other, making space for all of us?
Turning in, not turning away is the action of courage. It is needed, it is necessary, it is the only way to heal collectively.
Maybe this othering happens closer to home. In what ways am I, are we, othering ourselves? I would venture to say there are ways we do this othering that seem ok, like self-deprecating humor. Like the tik tok vid of the white middle aged woman in her car telling us she is having fruit salad: actually she is having wine for lunch, in her car. LOL!! But isn’t this disguised othering? Isn’t othering another way to say suffering? I read a phrase from Jack Kornfied: Can we learn to be kind to our suffering? Can we offer these words in our meditation; “May all beings be kind to their suffering, may all beings (including myself) accept and free ourselves from our suffering?”
Can I open to the possibility of a less grasping chokehold on the parts of myself I don’t want to see, don’t want to remember, wish weren’t, wasn’t, didn’t. The blame and shame that surrounds traumatic experiences act like a dark suffocating fog. I need the fog to clear. So can I be kind? Breathe? Accept? Then maybe the silent fog lifts and I can be in a space of maybe. A space of letting go of othering, finding room for collective, interconnected healing. Grace.
I walked toward the beach this morning, and as I descended the wooden steps, I noticed a large male bald eagle on the post at the end of the stairs. He fixed one golden eye on my progress. I slowed, respectful of the power of his talons and slicing beak. Actually, I don’t know that it was a male. Female bald eagles have the same qualities, same talons and beak, same strong wings, same instincts, the same calm awareness of their surroundings, all in their golden eyed radius. The eagle stayed as I slowly walked down, longer than usual, when I get too close to a wild animal. I was only 3 or so yards away when it finally lifted its large wings and flapped toward the beach. I wondered at its tenacity. What was protecting from this guarding perch?
I reached the beach, and there, half way between the waves and the cliff side was a brown, furry carcass and two bald eagles pulling up pieces of meat. I wondered, horse? Goat? Deer? As I slowly walked diagonally up the beach, careful about getting to close to those ripping beaks, I noticed a couple of crows holding vigil a few feet away. Ten yards up the beach, on a skeleton of a tree, seven eagles perched. Seven! Spotty young teenagers, maybe a year or two old, two adults with fully white heads, maybe a couple. Another eagle on a rock 20 or so yards up the beach. I was getting a little creeped out. My curiosity was stronger than my fear, though, because the situation was so calm.
Who were the ones eating? The elder couple? All was still and silent, no cawing, no chittering, just holding space. There was no urgency, no sense of scarcity, just waiting. Being. Watching and listening. A sense of order and respect amongst these beings. A sense of interconnectedness in earth, sky, water, and wind.
The eagle guarding the space flew in a large looping circle over our heads as I continued slowly on my way, stopping occasionally to look around for other birds. I might have felt a bit of Hitchcock inspired fear, but I didn’t. All I felt was a sense of reverence, as if I had stumbled upon a holy place. My heartbeat slowed, my footsteps matched the rhythm of the surf, and I made my way up the beach.
The two birds feasting slowly took flight, circling high above me toward the cliff side as I meandered. I wondered how close I would get to the bird family in the tree, before I spooked them to action. I got closer, they stared at me. I walked, slow but steady, they just kept staring at me. I stepped closer, now about 10 yards away, and crossed that invisible border of too close; with an easy grace, they all rose as one. The youngest chittered, complaining the loudest. I smiled, thinking of trips with my young, whining teenagers.
The carcass now 10 feet behind me, the birds began to settle back, the guard at the post, the crows a few feet from the dead sea lion, as it turned out to be. The birds landed back in the tree. The two eagles who were eating the seal meat did not return. All was silent as I kept walking, just the lullaby of the surf. Every 3 or 4 yards I turned back to see who was eating. No one. They waited. Respectfully, maybe waiting for the elders to return. Or not.
What I saw was not the “survival of the fittest”; a dramatic and violent patriarchal narrative. What I saw was not the feeding frenzy that is social media. Destroy or be destroyed seems to be the online motto now. Not just online; at a busy intersection in a very white, upper middle class town in the Pacific Northwest, with PCC (expensive organic food store) on the right, and equally expensive restaurants on the left, where all the housing prices are over a million, on one corner– one group of white haired liberals had signs that read, “Black Lives Matter!”, and on the opposite corner, another white haired group screamed back, “All Lives Matter!” while they waved their huge flags. All the screaming was accomplishing nothing; useless othering creating noise and more rage. I would say they were cawing like crows, fighting over trash, but now I feel differently about crows.
What I saw on the beach was a family and community, taking care of each other in a spirit of abundance and respect. The dead, the living, the waves, the wind, and me. All holding space for this wonder, this dance of life,
Now, I am completely aware that I could have told this story as a terrifying, bloody narrative. My perspective is beginning to shift; leaning away from that place. “There is no good nor bad, only thinking makes it so,” Shakespeare wrote five hundred years ago. I know, you may be thinking– but what about all the problems of the world? If we don’t hold people accountable, then how do things change?
What if we begin to ask: How can we heal together?
Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King, Desmund Tutu, all men who witnessed great suffering for themselves, their people, their cultures, walked paths of compassion for all. Speak honestly of suffering, they said, then choose forgiveness. In Desmund Tutu’s book, The Book of Forgiving, he speaks about the seeming unending ability of humans toward creating ways to cause pain for themselves and others, but also, “There is an innate ability to create joy out of suffering, to find hope in the most hopeless of situations, and to heal any relationships in need of healing.”
Shouting into the void doesn’t do anything but create endless raging reverberations. Watching, listening, honestly holding and caring for our own emotions, then using the space created to solve our problems creatively together. Suffering, death, life, hope and healing are all entwined endlessly like a beautiful DNA spiral. We can turn together towards the light, we can heal collectively, it is our birthright.