The other othering

othering1This morning I ran a route I don’t normally run.  I knew where I was going; I just don’t normally go that way.

I was about a mile away from my home when I found myself running past my absolute favorite house.  It’s this old farmhouse that’s been remodeled and the owners have a barn in the back of the property that’s also been remodeled.

I always imagine how they must constantly use that renovated old barn to have cool music festivals for just their friends and family, or world premiere readings of new plays for producers who come down special from the city, or that the walls are hung with brilliant works of art.

When I heard the oncoming car toot its horn, I suddenly realized that I was having a “Norstadt moment.” Norstadt was the kid in that Mel Gibson movie, “The Man Without A Face.”  He was the young boy who lived down the road from Gibson’s troubled character, and he’d go into these episodes where he’d stare off into the distance, thinking about something and wouldn’t come back to reality for who knows how long.

I was standing there, staring for who knows how long, envying the owners of that farm house, when I realized I’d just bumped myself up against another side of othering.


Let me back up.

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of othering for some time now.  I’ve written about why I feel like it is our greatest impediment to truly coming together in this country and around the globe.  Othering is basically defined as,

“…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.” (1)

This wasn’t what I was experiencing, though.  Well, not quite.

I wasn’t experiencing them (the owners of MY house!) as “less human” but in a way, “more human.”  I was projecting on them the notion that they had it all; that they had this perfect life and it was the one I wanted for myself.

This wasn’t the first time I’d done this.  I used to do it all the time, early in my career, when I’d go see a Broadway show or a great movie.  I’d think to myself, “Those people are so awesome! I wish I were them!”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with looking up to someone or aspiring to certain situations in life.  I’ve drawn inspiration and motivation from what other people have and what they’ve done with their lives many times.  We all need to have something to shoot for.  I’m talking about something different, though.

When we other someone in this destructive way, we elevate the other to pedestals on which they don’t belong and, more importantly, lower ourselves to statuses we don’t deserve—statuses of self-loathing or even possibly self-hatred.  Seeing others as so much better than we are can be just as bad, in the end, as seeing others as so much worse.

Either way, othering is a form of insecurity that we need to recognize and stamp out.  Like so many other things, it sells magazines, sustains our broken media and propels our modern popular culture.  But, it doesn’t have to.

A few years ago, my sister in law gave my daughter a lovely little necklace.   On the charm are the words, “You are enough.”

You are enough.

Those may seem like just words to you.  You might think that those words are just fine for someone else, but your situation is different.  If only you were more like her; or if only you had that car he has; or if only you had that cool farmhouse with the awesome renovated barn.

If only what?  Your life would be just perfect?

No, it wouldn’t.

Live your life.  Get all you want out of it.  Get all you can.  I’m cool with that.  But,only you are you and there will never be another.  Only you can do what it is that only you can do.

You are all that.




Author: Scott Langdon

Scott Langdon is an actor, writer, and photographer living just outside of Philadelphia in Bristol, Pennsylvania with his wife, Sarah, and their dog, Watson. He can be seen on stages throughout the professional Philadelphia theater community or writing in one of his many favorite local shops in his beloved "Borough", where the only way they could get rid of him was to tell him there was a pandemic. He has a hard time knowing when he's not wanted.

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