|When "Them" Become "Us" - Page 9|
A sigh of relief radiated around the room. Everyone sensed the shift. The message was that Vinnie and I could stay in relationship despite our disagreements. At the end of the training, we even exchanged a heartfelt hug. I'm not sure that I'd offered any nuggets that stayed with him, but I knew that our moment of hanging in together through our conflict had registered with him in a way that any lecture about "tolerance" or "mutual respect" wouldn't have.
Connecting with "the Other"
Since then, I've seen my role in a different way. My work isn't about educating the unenlightened: it's about helping people see the insidious impact of the "otherness process"—turning a person or a group into "the other." This may be a universal human experience: the manufacturing of "the other" promotes rigid polarization, based on the idea that one group is right and the other is wrong. Once this positioning has occurred, constructive engagement is virtually impossible.
The creation of "the other" is the dynamic at the heart of divorce and personal antagonisms, and it has always been central to racism, sexism, homophobia, and ethnic persecution. The mindset is always the same: "I/we are right, you/they are wrong, and if anything is to change, you/they must change."
My original identity as a self-righteous crusader for social justice had tripped me up. To become a true agent of change, I couldn't afford to see the world—literally and figuratively—as either black or white, us and them. I had to recognize how easily I myself could become "the other." I began to let in something that white women and gay white men had repeatedly reminded me of: that they weren't just white and privileged—they were also female and gay. To them, I was, as a heterosexual male, "the other," interacting with them from my own position of privilege. I needed to come to the uncomfortable realization that there may be a tiny piece of an oppressor in many victims—and a tiny bit of a victim in many oppressors.