As you might have read, I am no great fan of “verbing” — the act of changing words that are different parts of speech into verbs by simply using them that way. To quote Calvin, “it weirds language.” But I heard a word verbed recently that struck me as a needed addition. And no, it wasn’t “verb”.
Religious leaders other non-believers. At the extreme end-result of that process: Westboro Baptist, Boko Haram and ISIS manifest the resulting fear and hatred.
Racists other those who look different. President Obama’s political opponents have made careers out of othering him to their base. Not to digress into a purely political diatribe here, but the ferocity and single-mindedness of the Right’s hatred of this President is most simply and completely accounted for by racism. Occam’s razor has cut.
Homophobes other anyone not fitting the gender binary. Again this comes of fear, because if we are honest with ourselves, we know that none of us conform to the binary, not 100%. Nobody who is straight is utterly without a trace of attraction to anyone of the same sex. No cis-gender man (or woman) is utterly without some trait that shows a trace of the feminine (or masculine). This is especially terrifying to those raised in the manbox. My definition of a homophobe is, a man who is afraid that some man might treat him the way he treats women.
Othering is a product of fear. In humanity’s infancy, the tribe was required for survival. Any non-member of your tribe was a rival for scarce or difficult-to-obtain resources absolutely needed for survival. We’re not talking about flat-screen TVs for $99 on Black Friday here… we’re talking about the last 200 calories that mean the difference between you waking up the next morning or not. It was a zero-sum game: if I live, you die, or vice-versa.
But the effort that goes into othering now gives the lie to the zero-sum approach to life. If we still depended on killing anyone not of our tribe to live, well, the Olympics would be a different kind of spectacle. What othering now serves is to increase the power of those greedy for it, at the expense of some of humanity’s maturity.
If you catch yourself othering, try to think why. What does the person or group you’re othering do to make you fear them? Is it silly or should it be taken seriously? If it should be taken seriously, can it be addressed at the level of actions they are taking, rather than who they are?