The Language Of The Other

Othering” is a pretty basic psychological trick used to create distance between people. “We are different from them.” “They aren’t like us.” “Those people.”

Its use ranges from the absurd to the serious. Sitcoms use to to poke fun at just how different men and women are. Racists use it to justify their hatred. The Nazis used it.

Othering is almost a verbal tic that creeps into our language whenever we want to separate some bad opinion we have from the person who falls into the category of owning the trait but whom we want to separate from it.

But it happens in everyday conversation as well. During a discussion I was having with a friend about watching sports, he repeatedly said “those people” referring to those people who watch professional sports. I replied, more than once, that it wasn’t “those people.” It was me to which he was referring. The negative attributes he was associating with the fans of professional sports didn’t belong to some amorphous blob of people, but to me, as a sports fan, who he was looking in the eye.

Othering is a cop out. It allows the speaker to say negative things without directly calling out the people they are accusing. It’s hard to say to someone you know that you attribute negative qualities to them. It’s much easier to exempt the people around you from the accusation. It happens on a personal level too.

A work, a subordinate was dissatisfied with my performance and wrote an email to my supervisor citing “a failure of leadership” and “the decision made by the leadership.” Though, clearly, I was the leadership they were referring to, they never cited me by name.

It’s easy to hate people when you think of them as not like you. As not yourself. As less than you.

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