The “Other”

I have come to the conclusion, via age and experience, that it is more productive to surround myself with like-minded people.  It makes life easier and more enriching, I think.  Social media allow us to do this with the click of a button as we friend, follow and link with people who are like us in some way.  Our conversations are stimulating and energised but are they challenging in terms of seeking to understand the “other”?  Has social media allowed us to avoid other points of view in favour of celebrating our own.  What are the risks with this on a personal level, on a national level and on a global level?

Elizabeth Lesser, in a thought-provoking TED talk called “Take the Other to Lunch” looks at her own life as part mystic (grace), part warrior (grit)  The latter seeks to get on with things and focuses on the now whilst the former asks “what are we missing?”  She wonders if the circle we draw around ourselves (our family, friends, followers) is too small and too similar and may contribute towards the “demonisation” or “otherisation” of those with different viewpoints to our own.

Her talk inspires us to take someone whose point of view makes “smoke come out of our ears” to lunch so we can find out what is really in each others’ hearts.  When Elizabeth Lesser did this herself (she, being left-wing, invited a right-wing supporter) she found out the generic labels that are assigned to others do not represent those people as individuals.  She does argue that the intention of taking the other to lunch is not to change their worldview or to expect differences to melt away just to meet them in a neutral space and explore.

This had made me rethink my own point of view.  I don’t know if I’m ready to take an “other” to lunch (my views are pretty strong) just yet but once I work on my ability to not get defensive and to just listen I might give it a go. 

Who would you take to lunch and why?

Are all your social networks like you in some way?

What would you need to do to prepare for a lunch with the “other”?

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rachel
    Feb 03, 2011 @ 10:00:48

    Nice post Judy.
    I found it hard to think of dinner with anyone ‘other’ without feeling a bit tired. My work means I mix with people with incredibly different world views so I tend to want to relax with like minded people (like you!). However, thinking about this a little deeper, I realise that my life has been enormously enriched by interactions with people who are traditionally ‘othered’- people living with long term serious mental illness, indigenous Australians, refugees.

    Reply

    • judythesweetspot
      Feb 03, 2011 @ 23:48:59

      Thanks for the comment Rachel – It is a hard one isn’t it? I think if we can move beyond our own limitations we can at least listen to what the “other” has to say.

      Reply

  2. David
    Feb 03, 2011 @ 22:52:53

    Great post! If you can actually let go of your own pre-conceptions, spending time with people who have strongly differing opinions can be excellent practice in asking good questions. Taking the time to ask thoughtful questions without any attachment to the answer is hard but if you treat it like a detective would in an investigation, you can learn a lot about what drives people. Often you may also discover that the most strongly held opinions are based on incorrect or incomplete information. Emotionally mature people are always willing to have their opinion altered if new facts come to light. If you are tempted to try to change someone’s mind, try it with questions. This can be as simple as gently juxtaposing known facts with their positon and asking them to ‘help you understand’ how to reconcile the two.

    This approach also works very well in performance situatiions in the workplace.

    Reply

    • judythesweetspot
      Feb 03, 2011 @ 23:49:48

      Great response David – your link to workplace performance is great. How many times at work do we put people who don’t do what we want them to do in the “other” category.

      Reply

  3. Heather
    Feb 16, 2011 @ 02:31:00

    Enjoyed reading your post Jude. I think my own defensiveness and emotion would get rattled and my only saving grace would be how polite/diplomatic I can be. I’d be challenged to actively listen once I knew the “other” was in the opposing corner.
    When I’m facilitating I have to be aware of this emotion and take on board people’s different perspectives. Then like David suggested, throw out a question to truley understand their perspective. I had a manager in a leadership class once say he “manages” his people by wearing a set of keys on his belt. His theory was that when his staff who are meant to be working (on a production line) can hear his keys jingling before they see him they know he is their and get back to work. He said it works a treat and he’s never had any staff performance issues…mmmm…. I challenge you all to “hold your tongue”, respect his opinion then offer a question to get him thinking. In the situation I asked the room what they thought – you can imagine the feedback. Still, I think he still manages by “jingling” today.

    Reply

    • judythesweetspot
      Feb 16, 2011 @ 04:51:11

      Thanks for the comment Heather. Since I wrote this blog, I cannot stop thinking about “the other” and how to best approach this situation. I think that questioning is the key. If you ask a question instead of make a statement (or get on your soapbox you appear much calmer. In a learning session, you are right, it is easy to ask the group what they think about a strange comment (like the jingling guy-weird) to bring some reality into the situation. One-on-one can be challenging. David has a great response when he hears something weird, strange or downright whacked out – he says “mmm, that’s an interesting thought…tell me what lead you to that conclusion”…It works!

      Reply

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