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  • Writer's pictureDr Jo

Otherizing vs. Oneness

I was raised by a Jehovah's Witness elder. My family converted from Catholicism when I was just three. Being a JW was all I ever knew. And to be a JW of the 1960s, 1970s, and part of the 1980s was horrific. I knew what it felt like to be a target of ridicule, hate, and even violence. I was about 8 years old when I was first threatened with a gun. I was going door-to-door with my father on a Saturday morning. We woke a man who, as I remember, smelled like alcohol. I was terrified.

As a child, I had no choice about my religion: yet, time after time, we faced threats on Saturday mornings when we preached. We were verbally assaulted, physically threatened, and faced chronic disenfranchisement even by the systems that are intended to protect children.

For example, in third grade, Mrs. Brewster at Melvin E Sine School made me stand in front of the class and tell them that I was a "heathen" who didn't believe in Jesus because I didn't celebrate Christmas. In 6th grade, Mr. Jones made me do the "Chinese chair" in front of the class because my parents would not allow me to remain in the classroom for the pledge of allegiance. I was unpatriotic and he punished and castigated me every chance he found. I was so frightened one day that I urinated on myself. Many of the children hated and scoffed at me: the rest jeered and feared me: I was different. I hated going to school.

When I was about 12, we moved to a new neighborhood and I met a girl I really liked at school. I talked my parents into allowing me to go and play at her house. When I arrived there, on the door was a huge sign in all capital letters. I will never ever forget how that sign made me feel: NO JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES. These are only a few examples of my first hand knowledge of hatred, bigotry, and oppression. High school was worse if you can imagine: the judgment and oppression by teachers, administrators, and some other students was unbearable. I was beaten up twice: once as a freshman by four seniors in the indignity of the bathroom for being a "little freak" who didn't celebrate birthdays or Christmas. I had physicians mock my religion, calling my parents "child abusers" who "didn't love their daughter" (in front of me) for refusing to sign permission for a blood transfusion in preparation for a surgery I needed when I was 15.

For 15 years, that I can remember, I was psychologically abused and physically threatened and harmed for being a JW. It is a scar that will remain with me until I am dead. Even today, when I see a meme mocking JWs, my heart hurts because I remember the pain of that shame and hatred. Words, as well as physical threats, can be used as violence against others. And it should not be sanctioned nor given a platform.

Don't get me wrong: I'm no fan of the religion itself now. Much of the trauma and agony I felt in childhood was born of the radical beliefs and practices. But, I have known the pain of what "otherizing" does to a person's heart. 

Meanwhile, around the world, JWs have been systematically annihilated, put to death, tortured, and jailed for their pacifism. In Malawi in the 1970s, for example, JWs were collected and jailed; some sentenced to death. Hitler also targeted JWs, amongst others besides Jews, during the Holocaust: they were identified by their purple stars.

We must stop hating, oppressing, and imperializing people who are different from us, whether it is due to their skin color, their ethnicity, their able-bodiedness, their religious practices, their economic status, their region, their sex, gender, or choice of love, their experiential culture, and any other perceived differences (and frankly, their species). We must break down the systems that enable such otherizing. We must grow beyond these things. We must evolve or we are all doomed.

We can do that by confronting the most uncomfortable, painful, and terrifying aspect of being alive: one day, we will all die and those we love will all die. 

And this thing that we have in common is so much more than our superficial differences.

We "otherize" because we fear: We fear those different from us, we fear our own mortal impotence, and we fear the illusion of control: these fears loop right back to our fear of death or mortality salience (Becker, 1972). We use differences - and otherizing- to distract from this ultimate terror over every fragile and fleeting moment of breath. Yet, when we confront and absorb the ultimate angst of mortality that faces us all, we can experience Oneness. And in Oneness, these otherizing variables dissipate and we all are just beings trying to make sense of a temporary life and endure the suffering of ephemerality and loss. 

We are beings who will all face death, the "great equalizer" as Anna Quindlen so rightfully said. There is no room for hate in action, hate in speech, hate in thought. What an utter waste of this gift called life.

There is no room for otherizing- for the foisting of evil and hatred and violence against others- in an awake, authentic, and compassionate heart or in an awake, authentic, and compassionate society. Practice ahimsa.

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