When the expression is used in neutral way it signifies that which is fundamentally different, as in the notion of nature as the sacred ‘other’ or the unconscious as the alien inner ‘other’, or simply the difference between people’s personalities.
Jung’s experience of a dialogical inner other is at the core of The Red Book which illuminates many encounters with a host of imaginary figures. Throughout his life Jung held a tension between Personality No. 1, which represented his ordinary sense of self, and No. 2, which was a mysterious ‘other’ with an archaic character remote from the everyday world.
Most people think of the ‘other’ in terms of in-group/out-group dynamics based on physical, psychological, demographic and cultural variability. The ‘other’ is anyone perceived by the group as not belonging to their circle, not meeting their group norms and different in some way.
On the negative side, the ‘other’ may be viewed as lacking valued characteristics inherent to the group, therefore perceived as lesser or inferior, justifying discrimination and being treated as a mere object. When the ‘other’ is regarded as lacking agency, passive and without a voice it manifests in a lack of political vote, restricted freedom and limited career opportunities.
‘Othering’ implies a complex systematic process of separation, devaluation, objectification and subjugation. It refers to the ways people dehumanize those different from them making it easier to justify treating the other in an appalling manner. ‘Othering’ is used to perpetuate unequal systems of power, privilege and access to resources.
Humans are not born with prejudice. ‘Othering’ is socially and culturally constructed and perpetuates a racialized and politicized society, where difference is stigmatized and leads to discrimination. ‘Othering’ may be based on race, gender, social class, ethnicity, political ideology, religion and sexual orientation. ‘Othering’ involves the projection of shadow aspects, assigning inferiority and other undesirable aspects to the ‘other’. Jung urged us to consciously withdraw our projections which obstruct authentic human connection.
Encountering the ‘other’ is difficult. The ‘other’ challenges our word views, our understanding of the way the world works and our way of doing things. A person might consciously or unconsciously engage in ‘othering’ when they don't know how to respond to somebody very different to them. It’s much more difficult to genuinely engage with the ‘other’, spending time and effort understanding why they do what they do and who they really are. Yet when we take the time and put in the effort, we come to recognize and value diversity, becoming a society that is truly inclusive rather than exclusive.
Image credit: Death and the Masks' James Ensor (1897)
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