July 5, 2021

Are we judging from Unhealed Trauma when we “Other” Others?

We talk now of the word other as a verb; othering.

It is that judgy social media voice that you find everywhere; from cooking blogs to twitter feeds—keeping the narrative all about who is right and who is wrong; who is good, who is bad. Used to define treating people as different or inferior, based on personal opinion, belief, or culture. Then deepening the destruction of this mindset with the widening spiral of social media amplification.

We now feel the need to share our opinions as if they were deep knowledge, even if we just took this opinion from some Reddit post. “If I see it online, it must be true.” Which we know isn’t true, but if it agrees with our predisposition, we feel totally justified in judging whoever: black, white, men, women, nonbinary, conservatives, liberals, right wingers, whatever, whatever, whatever.

Can we acknowledge that this othering can be the voice of collective trauma? And that the only way to heal is to turn toward each other, not away—and turn in with kindness, to deeply listen to each other—making space for all of us?

Turning in, not turning away is the action of courage. It is needed, it is necessary, it is the only way to heal collectively.

Maybe this othering happens closer to home. In what ways am I, are we, othering ourselves?

I would venture to say there are ways we do this othering that seem okay, like self-deprecating humor. Like one TikTok video of a middle aged white woman in her car, telling us she is having fruit salad, when actually she is having wine for lunch. Isn’t this disguised othering?

Isn’t othering another way to say suffering?

I read a phrase from Jack Kornfield, where he said something to the effect of:

“Can we learn to be kind to our suffering? Can we offer these words in our meditation; ‘May all beings be kind to their suffering, may all beings (including myself) accept and free ourselves from our suffering?’”

Can I be open to the possibility of a less grasping chokehold on the parts of myself I don’t want to see, don’t want to remember, wish weren’t, wasn’t, didn’t? The blame and shame that surround traumatic experience act like a dark suffocating fog. Can I be kind, breathe, accept? Then maybe the silent fog lifts. I can be in a space of maybe. A space of letting go of othering, finding room for collective, interconnected healing—grace.

As I descended the wooden steps this morning, walking toward the beach, I noticed a large male bald eagle on the post at the end of the stairs. He fixed one golden eye on my progress. I slowed, respectful of the power of his talons and slicing beak. Actually, I don’t know that it was a male. Female bald eagles have the same qualities, same talons and beak, same strong wings, same instincts, the same calm awareness of their surroundings; all in their golden-eyed radius. As I slowly walked down, it stayed longer than is usual for a wild animal. I was only five or so yards away when it finally lifted its large wings and flapped toward the beach. I wondered at its tenacity. What was it protecting from this guarding perch?

I reached the beach, and there, halfway between the waves and the cliffside was a dark brown furry carcass and two bald eagles pulling off pieces of meat. I wondered; horse, goat, deer? As I slowly walked diagonally up the beach, careful to avoid getting too close to those ripping beaks, I noticed a couple of crows holding vigil a few feet away. Ten yards up the beach, on the skeleton of a tree, seven eagles perched—spotty young teenagers, maybe a year or two old, and two adults with fully white heads; maybe they’re a couple. Another eagle watched from a rock 20 or so yards up the beach. I was getting a little creeped out.

My curiosity was stronger than my fear, though, because the situation was so calm. Who were the ones eating? The elder couple? All was still and silent, no cawing, no chittering, just holding space. There was no urgency, no sense of scarcity, just waiting, being, watching, and listening. A sense of order and respect amongst these creatures. A sense of interconnectedness in earth, sky, water, and wind.

The eagle guarding the space flew in a large looping circle over our heads. I continued slowly, stopping to look around for other birds. I might have felt a bit of Hitchcock inspired fear, but I didn’t. All I felt was a sense of reverence, as if I had stumbled upon a holy place.

My heartbeat slowed, my footsteps matched the rhythm of the surf, and I slowly made my way up the beach.

The two birds feasting slowly took flight, circling high above me toward the cliffside as I made my way. I wondered how close I would get to the bird family in the tree, before I spooked them into action. I got closer—they stared at me. I walked, slow but steady—they stared. I stepped closer, now about 10 yards away, crossed that invisible border of too close, and with an easy grace, they all rose as one. The youngest chittered, complaining the loudest. I smiled, thinking of trips with my young, whining teenagers. I continued on my way.

The carcass now 10 feet behind me, the birds began to settle back, the guard at the post, the crows a few feet from the dead seal, as it had turned out to be. The birds back in the tree. The two eagles who were eating the seal meat did not return. All was silent as I kept walking, just the lullaby of the surf. Every three or four yards I turned back to see who was eating. No one. They waited. Respectfully. Maybe for the elders to return. Or not.

I can’t read the mind of an eagle, but I found the whole experience fascinating. 

What I saw was not the “survival of the fittest” dramatic and violent patriarchal narrative.

What I saw was not the “feeding frenzy” that is social media.

Destroy or be destroyed seems to be the online motto now. Not just online; at a busy intersection in a very white, upper middle class town in the Pacific Northwest—with expensive organic food markets and equally expensive restaurants on the left, where all the housing prices are over a million—one group of white-haired liberals had signs that read, “Black Lives Matter,” and on the other side of the intersection, another white-haired group screamed back, “All Lives Matter,” while they waved their huge flags.

All the screaming was accomplishing nothing. Useless othering creating noise and more rage. I would say they were cawing like crows, fighting over trash, but now I feel differently about crows.

What I saw on the beach was a family and community taking care of each other in a spirit of abundance and respect. The dead, the living, the waves, the wind, and me. All holding space for this wonder, this dance of life.

Now, I am completely aware that I could have told this story as a terrifying, bloody narrative. My perspective is not in that place.

Five hundred years ago, Shakespeare wrote;

“There is no good nor bad, only thinking makes it so.”

I know, you may be thinking; “But what about all the problems of the world? If we don’t hold people accountable, then how do things change?”

What if we begin to ask; “How can we heal together?”

Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu—all men who witnessed great suffering for themselves, their people, their cultures—walked paths of compassion for all.

Speak honestly of suffering, they said, then choose forgiveness.

In Desmond Tutu’s book, The Book of Forgivinghe speaks about the seemingly unending ability of humans toward creating ways to cause pain for themselves and others. He also states however:

“There is an innate ability to create joy out of suffering, to find hope in the most hopeless of situations, and to heal any relationships in need of healing.”

Shouting into the void doesn’t do anything but create more shouting.

We need: watching, listening, honestly holding and caring for our own emotions, then using the space created to solve our problems creatively together.

Suffering, death, life, hope, and healing are all entwined endlessly like a beautiful DNA spiral. We can turn together toward the light, it’s the only we we can heal.

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