By Ken Wells - 04/26/2022


Series Three: Blog Twenty-Five

No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark”

Sigler was from Detroit. He came to Bethany, Oklahoma to attend a small fundamental religious school to appease his grandma who wanted him to receive a religious education. I attended the same school and lived in the dorm and floor that he did.  Sigler was anything but religious. He got drunk on weekends, smoked cigarettes in his dorm room, and plastered his wall with Playboy centerfolds. Throughout the year he endured harassment from his evangelical dorm-mates who either were jealous of his expressed freedoms or were praying for his lost soul. The clear message he received was that he did not fit in. He never changed his behaviors and was eventually treated as invisible. Needless to say, Sigler never returned for a second year of education.

Sigler’s experience was a case of othering, which is a process of excluding people who do not fit norms and expectations determined by the dominant group. I have thought about Sigler’s experience throughout my adult years. I think everyone engages othering at some point in life. It could involve a move to a new environment, culture, new job, or new friends. It requires skills of acculturation. Intersectionality is always involved because there are several factors that occur at once when trying to settle into a new environment. It is always painful and debilitating. Belonging is necessary for people to grow and be healthy.  It impacts health, performance, life expectancy, and mental and emotional well-being. Belonging is communicated through structures, culture and personal interactions. When it doesn’t happen, life can become very painful.

I remember experiencing othering when I got into recovery for sexual addiction 30+ years ago. It was painful to feel that I did not fit anywhere. When I left my religious roots of fundamental Christianity, I struggled with feelings that accompany being “othered”. Old-time friends abandoned me and I was very lonely. I certainly felt as if I were on the outside of the bubble looking in. During college days I drank the Kool Aid of religious dogma and fit in. When I separated myself from the religious dogma, I was “otherated” just like Sigler was during my college days. For a while it was tough. Through the years the experience created a great compassion for addicts and others who experienced othering.

Othering is a way of being dismissed by other people. It is a way of making them invisible. If you have been a part of an organization, church group, even 12-step group and you disagree or drop out, you likely know the experience of othering. In our country, othering happens to people of color, gender, sexual orientation, female, class, religion, and a host of other factors. There is a way in which a dominant group tries to erase the presence of those unwanted.

In South Africa there was apartheid which was a way of saying you do not belong to this society. America has its own form of apartheid. People who have committed felonies are otherated. Sex offenders are otherated. When Dade county in Florida decided to allow sex offenders who did not own property to live only under bridges and on causeways, it was an attempt to erase their presence.

An othering process is now happening in the colorization of America. Many in our society feel the insecurity and anxiety about the browning of America. Trans people are othered as well. There is an urge to separate from people who don’t look like us or who relate to gender in a different way. Addicts know this experience well. People who are not addicted refer to those who are as “they,” meaning something different and other than me. However, we are not separate. We are all connected. It is critical in our country in times of great polarization to stop kicking people out of the human race and focus on our common shared togetherness, that is established through shared brokenness. Here are a few considerations:

  1. Take time to notice and see others. “Sawubona” is a Zulu term meaning “we see you”. It literally means the God in me sees the God in you. Philosopher Martin Buber describes relationships in terms of “I-Thou” and “I-It”. “I-Thou” treats others as sacred and “I-It” treats others as an object. Taking time to see others is a way of opening your heart to the sacredness of all life forms. It reduces objectivity and enhances the sacred existence of all sentient beings.
  2. Build bridges, not walls. Creating connection means we create a space for each other. Our first president, George Washington, once said, “The bosom of America is open to receive not only the opulent and respected stranger but the oppressed and persecuted…” Polarization fractures and builds walls. There is room for difference. When you recognize another person’s existence you build a bridge. A bridge allows you to walk toward another’s heart where once you were walled out.
  3. Co-create empathic space. Creating loving space for all expands the circle of human concern. No one is outside the circle of human compassion. Practice being present with those whose heart is broken. When you open your heart you increase your awareness of the pain of those around you while at the same time increasing your joy of connecting with others who surprisingly share more commonality than difference.

Migration is the experience of anyone who seeks freedom from oppression of any kind. Our world is in crisis from intense oppression caused by addiction, autocratic rule and unlivable conditions. Through connection, not othering, we create a space that says “I see you”. Being visible is a first step to healing.

I share this poetic reflection for you to consider—

The Indispensable Invisible You

Do I need to do something to be somebody

Can I dream that everybody can be anybody-

Power over you is luring, seductive with intoxication

Invisibility is scary – shrouded in isolation.

Ahh! There she Stands — splendid, sensual and seductive-

Taking up her space-

Though others say she has no place-

With pride and power – she swings and swaggers her sexuality-

Like the reborn caterpillar – her wings of freedom show off her radiant soul with hard-fought congruency-

How could this be? someone screams in fear-

You’re so different – you freak!

You must be queer!

Somebody do something – Just make her disappear –

I don’t want to see her tears –

How can she do what she does and not be a disgrace!

Would someone please, please just erase her face! –

Alone at night she walks the streets in agony’s crucible

In wretched vexation she knows she’s invisible

Wondering in the wee hour of the night, why is hate so indispensable?

In quiet contemplation she knows you want her dead –

So she walks with invisibility, her heart full of dread –

Does she need to do something to be somebody?

Can she dream that everybody can be anybody-

To hell with teamwork and its downward mobility

Let saints be meek – let them have all the humility

Like the great northern lights – I want to be seen! I demand visibility!

Give me power, fortune and fame

I need upward mobility –

Nameless invisibility is like being a worm

If destiny and fate bid that I must be a crawling creature

Then please dear God at least make me a ‘Special worm’

Do I need to do something to be somebody?

Can I dream that everybody could be somebody?

I celebrate the turn around that leads to taking up less space

the transformation of loneliness to a solitude place.

People say you must network, market – go get votes-

Hang out with successful people – learn the ropes.

Whatever I do – does it have to be judged?

Condemned or necessarily deemed as wrong

Can I simply be different with a new kind of song?

Can I make peace with my own dispensability?

Can I force importance in the presence of invisibility?

If you think I’m lazy, does it make me inferior?

If you get rich because you work hard, does it make you superior?

Is it OK to travel a different road

Than what I’ve been shown or anything I’ve ever been told?

Can I find my dignity

and face the fear of invisibility?

Do I need to do something to be somebody?

Can I dream that everybody can be anybody? – KW

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