Being careful how we see others

‘Me against my brother; my brother and I against my cousin; myself, my brother and my cousin against others’, so goes this old Arab Bedouin saying. It is however problematic and underpins sameness, rather than diversity. Now more than ever, we are seeing a hardening towards those who are different than ourselves, which in turn paves the way for insidious thinking and behaviours.

We live in a world increasingly impacted by anxiety about those we perceive as ‘other’. ‘Other’ is someone of a different gender, identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, culture. A progressive agenda is about inclusion, connection, acceptance, empathy.

I recently attended a conference on ending men’s violence toward women, and was intrigued by how some workers and speakers constructed men who use violence as ‘other’. I heard descriptions such as ‘these men’, as if somehow they are different than ourselves, our brothers, our uncles, our sons. I am not suggesting that men who use violence and abusive practice in their relationships don’t have issues, but I would argue that they are more similar to us than different. Some of us may readily take positions of resistance against a dominant masculine hegemony (the beliefs that the social, cultural, ideological, or economic ideas exerted by men are more valued than those of women), but in many ways we also benefit from these processes. We need to remember one man’s abuse to one woman is a message to all women, and affects all men.

When workers engage in ‘otherness’ it is easy to bring judgement into the mix. This judgement is based on stereotypes, operating at the level of unconscious bias. In other words we are often unaware of where these stereotypes come from, and the impact they have on our interactions with others. We experience a sense of discomfort. This in turn creates distance in our working alliance.

So what can we do to avoid being seduced by ‘otherness?’

  • Recognise positioning people as ‘other’ as a real thing
  • Be aware of when we are doing this in our interactions with people who are different than us
  • Identify the attitudes and beliefs we hold towards others so that we can ‘interrogate’ these (make sense of what they are and where come from)
  • Alter our reactions/behaviour to the other person and look for connection, rather than disconnection, similarity rather than difference

While we may not know what it’s like to have an ‘others’ experience, we can minimise the additional burden on others. That is the very work we undertake with men who use abusive practice in their relationships. We have them learn to better manage the ‘otherness’ that is part of gendered violence.

Published on Wednesday, March 15th, 2017, under Family violence, Offender work, Practice tips and techniques, What Ken thinks

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