Last Monday, I found myself in a coffee shop at a table within earshot of the most misogynistic, racist, Islamophobic, classist conversation I’ve heard in years. I’ll spare you the offensive details, but needless to say that stellar soundtrack plagued me much of the rest of the week as I questioned whether or not I should have said or done something.
My head was full of excuses– I had my kids with me, there were six of them and one of me, I had a bit of a summer cold and was low on energy, etc. But the truth of the matter is that I didn’t say anything because I didn’t see the point. I had no faith in my speaking out making any difference in that situation. I am still struggling with my faith in the power of dialogue.
Connection, dialogue, deep listening, simply opening to Other– these efforts are still what I believe create grassroots pathways towards the creation of a more just, peaceful, & compassionate world. It is easy to disparage our fellow human or groups of humans when we have no personal connection to them.
“Those people are so [insert assorted degrees of negative/hateful judgement here].”
It is harder to commit the same disparagement of an individual person we are connected to in some way. It is harder to let nasty comments made by friends, loved ones, co-workers, talking heads, politicos, and random strangers in a coffee shop not affect us when the Other they disparage is someone you have learned to call Friend.
When Other becomes Friend, everything changes.
This is something I’ve experienced and born witness to while traveling and living overseas. That was a period of my life when I crossed paths with so many people who were Other to me in some way, shape or form. Thrown together for just a day or for several years, I had a choice in those intersecting moments. Continue to hold onto my preconceptions and summary judgements or set them down and open to the possibility of Other becoming, if not Friend, then at the very least, Fellow Human. That opening to Other produced some incredible teachable moments that brought me closer to a more holistic understanding of our shared humanity.
Alongside that unfortunate coffee shop conversation, I’ve been replaying some of those experiences from the last few years when Other became a deeper, more personal connection that permanently altered my perception. I realized that I was analyzing those moments in only one direction– through the lens of what happened when I opened to Other; when I allowed Other to become fully Fellow Human and in some cases, Friend. It wasn’t until I spent several hours sorting through memories under the influence of Monday morning’s coffee shop debacle that this ridiculously obvious thought came to roost.
I am someone’s Other.
I’ve known this in the abstract sense, of course. And the more I consider it, the more I am sure that the delayed understanding of this in a more concrete sense is a result of my current privilege. But there it is– now fully present in the forefront of my mind.
I am someone’s Other– maybe even yours. We are all, each of us in some way, someone else’s Other.
So, what do I do with that now? If I really believe that the development of relationships helps create pathways to compassionate change, how do I not only open to Other, but also connect meaningfully with those who would Other me? The next time I’m in a challenging coffee shop situation, what could I do to live into this belief?
When Other becomes Friend everything changes.
Who is your Other? For whom are you Other? How could you create a point of intersection between you? How could you open and hold space for Other to potentially intersect Friend?
Kate Brunner is a writer, healer, ritualist, & member of The Sisterhood of Avalon, studying at the Avalonian Thealogical Seminary. She is a somewhat nomadic American, homeschooling her children with the world as their classroom. She holds a BA from Tulane University, where she studied Economics, International Relations, & Religious Traditions. Kate volunteered as a presenter for monthly Red Tents and semi-annual women’s retreats before relocating overseas for several years where she hosted seasonal women’s gatherings, facilitated labyrinth rituals, and led workshops on an assortment of women’s spirituality topics. She recently returned to the US and is breathing into the potential of this new chapter of her life.