In this diverse and rapidly changing world new words continue to make it into our collective vocabulary. One of the latest for me is “otherize.”

I have just become aware of the word, which isn’t even in the dictionary yet. However, it has been popping in and out of use over the past several years according to linguist Ben Zimmer, chair of  the New Words Committee at the American Dialect Society and a language columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

Zimmer says that otherize has a long history all the way back to the German philosopher Hegel, who wrote in the early 19th century about consciousness of the self vs. the other. By the early 20th century in English writing, the other turned into a verb to describe the act of excluding a person or a group from a particular norm. Thus the idea of treating someone as outside of a particular dominant social group or social norm is generally what is meant by the word otherize.

Image result for images of US vs Them

Humans seem to have the tendency to put people into groups. This often creates an “Us vs. Them” mentality toward people who may be different from us in some way. One research report on a phenomenon called minimal group paradigm shows that people tend to favor a group bias even when they are categorized on relatively meaningless distinctions- eye color, what kind of paintings they like, or even the flip of a coin.

When we “otherize” we “polarize.” Something that’s been polarized has been split into two sides that are so different, it seems as though they’re from opposite ends of the earth — like the North Pole and the South Pole (www.vocabulary.com).

People are polarized by different ideas about government and social issues. Coke vs. Pepsi, Ford vs. Chevy, one sports team vs. another. There are many examples that polarize a population.

We need to be careful about blanket judgments. There may be people who we think are profoundly wrong, but it is not helpful to dismiss them because we disagree with them. It is possible to be passionate about something without stereotyping and demonizing individuals or groups of people with whom we disagree.

We must be careful of the “We/They” and “Us/Them” attitude. It is easy to think our way is better, our church is the “right” church, our behavior is more godly or patriotic than others. This mentality is destructive. Civil discourse and mutual respect are needed to counter otherizing.

The Apostle Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). All the major religions call people of faith to exercise mutual respect for their fellow human beings.he Center for Family Change offered suggestions on how to treat one marriage partner.

What is suggested applies equally in all relationships. The following paragraph is the advice from their website edited to apply to all persons.(http://www.centersforfamilychange.com/relationship_problems_respect.htm)

Mutual respect is a simple concept. It means you treat one another in a thoughtful and courteous way. It means you avoid treating each other in rude and disrespectful ways. You do not engage in name calling and do not insult or demean another person. It also means that you do not talk sarcastically to, or ignore or avoid the other person. Finally, mutual respect means that you view the opinions, wishes and values of the other person as worthy of serious consideration.

As a child I was taught that Jesus loved “all the children of the world.” I learned that all of them were “precious in his sight.” Surely that love continued as they grew up. If Jesus loved them, certainly we should love, serve, and respect all people too.

“By mutual respect, understanding and with good will we can find acceptable solutions to any problems which exist or may arise between us.” (Dwight D. Eisenhower)

Jamie Jenkins

 

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