Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

No To Torture, Houria Niati, 1982, featured in Othering by

When I wept, and chastened my soul with fasting, that was to my reproach. I made sackcloth also my garment; and I became a proverb to them. They that sit in the gate speak against me; and I was the song of the drunkards.
Psalms 69:10-12

When we don't understand someone else we apply a label to them. In our personal scheme of the world this categorisation puts them in their place, simplifies things, reduces nuance and the need to think. Thus the world slowly becomes one of 'us' and 'them', the unlabelled and the labelled. Such labelling is almost always derogatory, racial or sexual slurs, religious insults like 'right-wing fundamentalist', disdainful labels like 'flat-earther' or 'antivax' and when lacking imagination generic terms like 'idiot' usually suffice to describe someone not like us.

The practice is today referred to as othering. This is what the psalmist means when he says I became a proverb to them. He is mocked and ridiculed. No one seeks to understand, instead they take pleasure in making him an object of scorn. I was the song of the drunkards does not necessarily apply to those consuming alcohol. We can get drunk on power and groupthink. We are all familiar with images of gangs of children taunting the single, different child, chanting words of mockery over and over again, drunk with glee. The same phenomena occurs with adults, in more subtle ways perhaps, but under the influence of alcohol becoming more blatant, more angry.

We live in a world of othering, which in these times of stark political differences over the covid pandemic and other social issues is especially exaggerated. The antidote of course is to seek to understand, to ask questions rather than make assumptions. But this takes time, and we are all in such a rush it becomes easier to just slap on a label. Sad, but true.