At the Intersection of Other & Friend by Kate Brunner


Kate close up at Llyn MorwynionLast 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.

And yet….

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.

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Categories: Activism, Friendship, Relationships

Tags: , ,

6 replies

  1. Brava! Very perceptive and thoughtful–and thought-provoking–post. You were probably right not to speak up to those six guys. They would probably have attacked you, maybe physically. Is it possible that for some people everyone outside their immediate circle (gang, bunch, fellowship, congregation) is Other? As we circle further into the Technology Age and have more Facebook friends and more “conversations” on the social media, it’s possible that we won’t have friends anymore that we see face to face. Does that make all our social media friends Others? Or will personality creep through the social media and all those Others turn into Friends?

    I wish I had answers to any of your questions or my own questions. But it’s good to ask questions!

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  2. Great post, Kate. In our interconnected world there are many, many opportunities to encounter an “other,” unless, of course, we stick to our little in-group. Most people do the latter. Your recurrent phrase, “When Other becomes Friend, it changes everything (…or at least the person becomes a Fellow Human)” may be the only answer. Science is beginning to discover that we seem to be hard-wired to “other.” In fact, this talk by Susan Fiske (http://www.beinghuman.org/conference/being-human-2013?p=6) demonstrates the ultimate of “othering,” namely the way most people think about homeless street people. She did fMRI brain scans of subjects while they were shown pictures of a variety of types of people. From the scans, she found that for most people, homeless people don’t even light up the parts of the brain associated with human beings, i.e. for most people the homeless are objects, things. This finding horrified me. Fiske’s only caveat was that if you know a homeless person, then your brain scan locates homeless people in the human category.

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  3. Thank you for being vulnerable by sharing your thoughts about this complex journey. You said that “It is easy to disparage our fellow human or groups of humans when we have no personal connection to them.” True. And yet, even within personal connection — as in family — we can become disparaging and distance ourselves from them when their views make us uncomfortable.

    I am in the midst of a similar journey as I consider moving back to the landscape of my childhood…and its culture that in many ways felt completely alien to me even when I was a child. I have been blogging and journaling about this inner work, while also reading many books on culture, community, psychology, and philosophy…trying to understand the Other in order to bring more compassion into interaction. I recently finished Jonathan Haidt’s book “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion” and found it very helpful (in spite of the fact that many of his views — as well as the studies that he cites — still feel intensely patriarchal).

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  4. I just had the experience last night of being at a faculty meeting and hearing the professor behind me talking about big game hunting in Africa including a remark that “Obama won’t allow something like that here” (giving the leftovers from the killed animals to an African school). I *wanted* to say something so badly and didn’t.

    Reading about the Other and making the connection, reminded me of my own past post musing about being the *recipient* of compassion *from* the Distant Other: http://goddesspriestess.com/2013/06/13/thursday-thealogy-the-distant-other/

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  5. Kate I really resonate with your post. I have a pen pal whose political and religious views are the opposite of mine. For years we never discussed these issues in our letters, but recently she has been venting. I’ve ignored her comments, but I finally told her my views were the opposite of hers and that we should “agree to disagree.” She didn’t take the hint and in her last letter she made hateful comments about marriage equality. I have friends and relatives who are lesbian and gay and her letter upset me. So I’ve decided to respond to her comments and say what I mean, mean what I say, and not be mean when I say it. I ‘m not trying to change her mind. I only want her to stop writing such things to me. Wish me luck!

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  6. Kate, I find this post very interesting. I can understand and relate where you’re coming from and the perspectives of coming across others and being an other. When it comes to others, it is really hard to try to make people that see us or that see others understand the importance of acceptance. One of the main reasons is the lack of dialogue nowadays, as you explained in your post Dialogue is Dying & I Have Only Questions. People usually don’t want to be wrong or do not want to accept new perspectives. This also includes the lack of acknowledgement of one’s privilege. When one fails to acknowledge their privilege, they tend to ignore the qualities and characteristics of the Others. This often leads to unsuccessful dialog and makes it impossible to understand and accept the Others. I really liked these two posts.

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