When I walk, I intentionally “unplug”. There is nothing on my body to indicate how many steps I have taken during my four-mile adventure. I consciously immerse my senses in the marvels of nature; birds soaring in and out of trees, dogs walking their owners, and humans chasing the healthiest versions of themselves. I am at peace. Yet sometimes, today, for instance, annoying thoughts invade my peace.Today it is the concept of “Othering”.
“Othering” means any action by which an individual or group becomes mentally classified in somebody’s mind as “not one of us”. Rather than always remembering that every person is a complex bundle of emotions, ideas, motivations, reflexes, priorities, and many other subtle aspects, it’s sometimes easier to dismiss them as being in some way less human, and less worthy of respect and dignity than we are.
Now, picture this.
Unexpectedly, my “Othering” thoughts were redirected to the magical laughter of children playing in a nearby park. I walked over to the brightly colored playground and watched stay-at-home mothers talk with one another while their toddlers played. I could see a patchwork of cultural diversity in the clothing and hear it in the conversations. A little boy who obviously had a physical disability fell and started to cry. Before his mother could reach him, one of his little girl playmates was rubbing and kissing the boo-boo on his knee. She didn’t care that he walked differently. She didn’t care that English was his second language. They could not have been more than three or four years old, yet she instinctively knew about the power of empathy.
You know where I am going with this. I wondered at what point we moderate instinctive empathic responses in our babies and introduce them to attitudes of “Othering”. When do they begin to respond to differences as negative rather than positive? How can we use the power of play for more than just fun? What if we used it to remind and teach and encourage us to tolerate until we understand enough to accept?
What if we all could see and be seen as equal to – unique, not as part of a collective group – be addressed, and spoken about, by our name – be encouraged to be ourselves – be given enough time to be culturally competent… be given the time and opportunity to understand – to be listened to, and understood.”
What if we as grown-ups, learned to be together, even though we are not the same? Or at least respect the diversity that makes our country great. What possibilities would we uncover? What possibilities can you think of?
Ms. Ambreen Rizvi joined me this week at the global, virtual, table of phenomenal women on Frankly Speaking with Tyra G. Ambreen’s life journey has taken her from Pakistan to Paris to the United States. She has lived the nuances of diversity and inclusion. Hear our enlightening conversation on our YouTube channel:
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You are not alone.
You are not your circumstances.
You have everything within you to live a purpose-filled life.