Lent Series

Listening Instead of Othering


Thursday, March 11, 2021

Listening Instead of Othering

by Scott Stoner

Compassion isn’t just about feeling the pain of others; it’s about bringing them in toward yourself. If we love what God loves, then, in compassion, margins get erased. “Be compassionate as God is compassionate,” means the dismantling of barriers that exclude. —Father Gregory J. Boyle

“Othering” may be a new word for you, but it describes a human tendency that has been around for all of time. Othering is when we choose to prejudge someone because we believe them to be com-pletely other than us, and therefore not of equal value. We can other people based on their race, politics, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, ethnicity, or disability—just to name a few conditions for othering.

Jesus was scandalous to many, including the religious authorities of his day, because he challenged the barriers created by othering in his culture. For example, when Jesus meets a Samaritan woman drawing water from a well and is willing to enter into a conversation with her. The woman, shocked, asks “How is it that you, a Jew, has a drink with me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9). It was common practice then that Jews and Samar-itans othered each other, and thus chose not to interact with one another.

Who among us has not prejudged someone because they are different from us? The remedy for this kind of prejudice, this kind of othering, is to commit instead to listening to our neighbor even, or especially, when this kind of listening stretches us. Jesus is our model for doing this. Time and time again we see that when Jesus befriends the “other,” what follows is some kind of profound healing and transformation. Imagine the healing that could happen in our world if we all strove to do the same.

Making It Personal: What speaks to you most in this reflection? Are you aware of ways in which you fall short of loving a neighbor in your life because of prejudice or othering? If so, what steps might you take to change this? 

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