Who is the “other”?

Man as an individual builds up in an interaction with others. But who is the other? The other is “different” from me. The others are the mirror in which we need to look in order to understand who we are. The “ego” needs “you” and “us” to build up and build. The man and his culture are created thanks to their contacts with others: the encounter with the other, the “different”, is the creative engine of culture. So it is through others that we can recognize and define ourselves.

“We” and “others” are interchangeable words that continually reposition one towards the other. The meeting with people we perceive as different as we lead to a questioning of ourselves and can open up to the most unpredictable results. When the perception of otherness becomes overwhelming and widespread, we end up feeling foreign, communication with the outside world becomes problematic and, in a measure, and often unpredictable, it changes the perception we have of ourselves.

The discovery of America was the first documented case of contact between two civilizations completely unknown. The «extreme» character attributed to the meeting is the extraordinary uniqueness of the situation and its immediate consequences, which have occurred for centuries. When the Spaniards landed in the New World, they entered into contact with a civilization far away from them, which lead to the point where both parties struggled to identify themselves as belonging to the same species. We were therefore faced with the realization that the ‘”I” is, in fact, part of the “other” too.

The diversity, which is often seen as a negative aspect, can be considered as an obstacle, a danger, an uneasiness, and this is why the presence of the “different” frequently generates feelings of fear, anxiety, and suspicion that lead us to question our certainties, our limits, and our daily stability. If we perceived the «difference» as a value, a resource, an opportunity and a right instead of as a limit, the meeting between each other could also be conflictual in some cases but would never lead to discrimination. You can then delineate two different strategies toward the other: one in which the person fears the other, and the other one in which the meeting between the two human beings is seen as a strength and an enrichment.

We often speak about the concept of «fragility» of identity that consists in considering the confrontation between me and someone else as a threat because we perceive it as a danger to our identity. Our identity is fragile to the point that it is difficult to accept and to tolerate that others have different ways of conceiving and organizing their lives that we do and that’s why diversity is difficult because we stay away from others and keep our distance from them. And this doesn’t only apply to an individual level but also to a collective and social level, which induces big problems for the social life and democracy, especially nowadays when the definition of identity has become much more complex than in the past. Indeed, the fact that the opportunities of meeting with the other, with the “different”, are increasing every day, in a surprising way, leads to the weakening of the traditional cultural bonds.

The reception is the first contact we have with each other. Mistrust, prejudice, strong stereotypes in our way of thinking and our laziness make uncertain and difficult our relationship with each other. The conflict destroys not only the relations between people but also (and especially) the ability of men to evolve in the acceptance and appreciation of different identities. And this is the most important human aspect because, especially today, the development of a human being can’t be separated from the exchange of values with others and the acceptance of the «different».

The differences between cultures are indispensable for the progress of humanity. Entering a relationship with the other means getting in touch with another identity, with someone who is “different” from us; and through this action, besides developing a great conscience of our identity, we can become richer recognizing and accepting the otherness. The diversity is the only real strength of human beings. By Valeria Casadei

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