Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Othering

At AROHO Marilyn Robinson spoke about this. Of course I’m aware of today’s paranoia over borders, terrorists that have turned many people inside out to the point of demonizing the “other”, this was just the first time I’d seen it used as a verb, as in “othering” others. Basically the other is someone other than you.

I know pretty broad. Yet it is only in the broadest language that one can describe something as all-encompassing as the universe outside of our self. Some people have attempted to mitigate this generalization by saying something like this: I’m not racist, I’m just not comfortable with a black president or what’s wrong with profiling—we need better border security.

Well this is all fine except it is “othering”. A great example of this is in a book I referenced earlier this month: Wendy McClure’s The Wilder Years, where Wendy and her beau traveled to downstate Illinois to attend a weekend festival revolving around farm skills ie putting up tomatoes, canning peaches, making beef jerky, learning how to cut logs, or make a composting latrine. One of the main organizers was a woman who spun her own wool, who knitted and wove. Cool! I know I love the DIY movement, people who use recycled materials and are learning to live off the grid etc.

Except this wasn’t so much about getting back to nature as about survivalist skills—because the end is coming, nigh unto us. The insinuation was that some of those attending just didn’t know what was going to happen, ahem, cough, now that that man is in office.

Scary, but Wendy makes the scene read humorous, yet the subtext is ominous. It reminds me that there are crazies out there intent on “othering”.

Today I was sitting and thinking outside of the box. I love that phrase because it would indicate there is a box, borders to understanding. Most mysteries though are unknowable. On the list of World Heritage Mysteries (see link) is Stonehenge, where for a while there Western man thought they had the secrets of Stonehenge figured out. It was in the box. Then . . .

In If Stones Could Speak: Unlocking the Secrets of Stonehenge by Marc Aronson (published by the National Geographic Society) Aronson tells the story of archeologist Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield who first had to travel AWAY from England, half way around the world to Madagascar to begin to unravel the secrets of Stonehenge. It was there in Madagascar that Parker-Pearson met a retired archaeologist, a native of Madagascar, and asked him to come have a look at Stonehenge.

Wow, this is outside the box. Asking someone from outside the culture, outside one’s hemisphere, and from a totally different tradition to get their opinion on something that baffled mathematicians, historians, anthropologists, archeologists, and academics from esteemed universities. What could an African man have to contribute? Another perspective.

It was his conclusion that Stonehenge was built to honor ancestors and the dead. And so Dr. Parker-Pearson began to look at Stonehenge, study aerial photos from this new perspective, and, working this new hypothesis, began to collect evidence that supported this idea, as well as the notion there was a sister complex made of wood for the living in the near vicinity. This idea was radically different from the previously accepted theory of Stonehenge being used as a temple. Dr. Parker-Pearson pursued deeper research that ultimately changed how the world viewed Stonehenge, the legacy of an ancient people, and pretty much discredited a long-accepted theory based upon astronomy.

So sometime, ask a 90-year-old person what they think about . . . . I don’t know, what makes you happy, what do you look forward to, teach me from your wealth of knowledge, tell me the secret of life.

Or sit down and chat with a homeless person about  . . . (see above)

Or listen to a 4-year-old.

Or visit another country.

Open yourself up to others by “othering” and you might come away with your box blown up.

1 comment:

Sheila said...

Excellent post.... Thanks!