My friend, Rick, possesses a reconciling spirit. Years in the fields of organizational development and conflict resolution, truly, his callings, have formed an intense desire to help people dwell together. (Or perhaps it is his inherent longing that led him to his callings.)
Rick questions my use of “the other” (language I have employed for years to indicate my awareness of the differences that exist between persons and, indeed, within one’s self). He considers it potentially hurtful or harmful. Too close to the edge of demonizing one’s enemies or opponents that all too often passes for public debate and private discourse.
Nevertheless, I continue to use the words “the other” for two primary reasons.
First, I mirror the notion espoused by Rudolf Otto some generations ago. God, as numinous (from the Latin, numen, spirit), is the mysterium tremendum et fascinans – a mysterious presence and power that is fearful and awful, arousing terror and reverence. Moreover, God as holy is the divine wholly other – totally beyond, wholly differentiated from anything that is known in the natural order of things. It is the encounter with this God, Otto held, that is the heart of the human religious experience.
Reflecting on the idea of Otto’s God in the light or shadow of our world replete with malice, conflict, and despair, God (literally in God) is other – love, peace, and joy. Hence, when I think of myself as “the other”, it is not only when outside my usual social context, say, when traveling, that I am other to those native to the lands I visit, but also, perhaps more profoundly that I sense an inner longing to be other as God is other. I desire to live in (and to give) love, peace, and joy.
Second, I believe that when I meet “the other” in the openness of mutual integrity and vulnerability, honesty and growing trust, we discover (not always, but oft enough) that we, to each other, become another. Another human being. Another member of a global family. Another creature abounding with strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and failings. Another person laboring to discern the reason for being, the purpose of life, and the course of destiny. Simply and profoundly, another. No better, no worse. No greater, no lesser. And no longer wholly other.