Social Ruminations: The Science of Othering
The Other blog might have been titled as such to distinguish itself from the blogs that exist in the Duke community and in the world wide web in general: ‘The Other’ is a blog that aspires to become a platform where all identities and experiences are expressed, represented, valued and recognised, without any exception. However, I also read and understand this title in a different way. ‘The Other’ is a philosophical concept coined by Hegel and refers to the incomprehensible, unattainable external selves that other people are. Its relevance lies in the fact that the first step in understanding ourselves is measuring the extent and the means by which ‘The Other’ has affected the ways we practice the dimensions of our existence.
Living in Lebanon, not conforming to gender-sexuality norms and being a good student in school were all factors that, I have come to realize, had made me very sensitive to external judgments and very wary of how people perceived me. Lebanon is known for its ‘to be is to appear’ society. Especially in privileged socio-economic milieus, the importance of image and reputation is suffocating. In addition to having to be conscious of the social implications of my actions, I was obsessed with my reputation in the academic environment of my school. Being appreciated and recognized by teachers helped in academic success. Tallying these two environmental factors, I had been cautiously trying to convey an image of a person I had never been because of my sexual non-conformity. Being authentic had social, professional and financial consequences that limited my life chances. The people by whom I had felt ridiculed or ill valued would mentally haunt me. At 17, I decided to take responsibility for however my psychology had been molded and try to overcome all these impulses that had drained me emotionally. Finding answers in philosophy and brain sciences, I have come a long way today in getting a complete sense of who I am in an attempt to get rid of my social frustrations.
When it comes to analyzing how far altruistic forces have contributed to our psychological mold, the lottery of life takes full form. Rationalizing the human psychological development is a nearly impossible task, as the dynamics of emotions exceed those of nature in complexity and mysticism. “For every male action there is a female reaction”, stated Newton in his attempts to extend natural physics to human behavior. We know today it is much more subtle than what Isaac Newton had postulated. Something we realize is true is that the human psyche is very receptive and influenced by who we meet in the early stages of our lives, the social environment we have been bred in and its predominant collective subconscious as well as the values and principles put in practice by our guardians. In essence, we are a product of others and their influences, up to a certain extent.
Being introduced to the wonders of philosophical reasoning and doing personal research on altruism, I have come to realize a number of properties of ‘Others’ that each one of us ought to keep in mind when dealing with an incomprehensible social frustration (I will spare you references and careful conceptual handlings). It is crucial to realize that others are ephemeral and transient beings. They mostly enter our lives for short periods of times and are an incarnation of their own frustrations and psychological entanglements. Just like any human being, others are finite, in space, time and thought. Such realizations make their judgments less valuable as others are scaled back to a sound level of existence, making the mind less receptive to them. Also, others are inaccessible. Their qualities and the properties by which they are moved are alien to our scope of knowledge and our means of making sense out of things. We struggle to fully know ourselves, how hard is it then to completely know someone else? It is therefore absurd to base our recognition on external consciousness of which we ignore the mechanics of judgment. Recognition should instead find room in personal endeavors to better the conditions of our lives and the dimensions of our being.
Why are all these thoughts relevant to identity? As I stated earlier, learning to transcend ‘Others’ and develop a sense of self are crucial steps in knowing who we are and what we stand for. Just as humanity has shifted from a geocentric to a heliocentric perception and conceptualization of the world, I believe every human being is bound to see the world from a more self-centered vision, an anthropocentrism that would cut the umbilical cord that has linked him to external consciousness ever since birth. How could this be accomplished? One essential tool I have learned to master in this search for my Agency Moment is the power of belief. Any subconscious turmoil or emotional hurdle can be overcome if its subject believes in the powers of rationalization he is endowed with. Philosophizing, to some extent, purifies the mind and sublimates everlasting emotional chains into constructive and edifying energy. It is of utmost importance to believe in will and human potential in controlling subconscious suffocations. Also, practices such as meditation, visualization, writing and goal setting are catalysts to a more emotionally stable and fulfilling life. It is truly mesmerizing to witness beliefs that have kept you away from feeling well and full to vanish, leaving room for much more constructive and life affirming ones.
Human beings interact in a lot of wonderful ways and we wouldn’t have reached such levels of civilization hadn’t it been for our ability to communicate. However, some social dynamics can be undermining to our wellbeing. It is therefore essential to keep in mind these empowering thoughts that fill us with happiness and empower us in the most beautiful ways.