The encounter with otherness is essential for growth. If all we are exposed to are people like us, we end up in an echo chamber, confirmed in whatever our present level of growth is. It feels nice for a while, but it gets us nowhere in the long run.
There are two challenges we face when it comes to otherness. One is not listening, feeling threatened, or in some way closing ourselves off to the other. The second is to be overly familiar with the other, and to think we already know the other. A corrective is to remember that we experience people (and things) not as they are, but as they were.
Light and sound take time to travel, which means there is lag between when the sound waves generated by another’s vocal cords reaches our ears, and between when the light leaves their face and hits the receptors in our eyes. It may only be a nanosecond of a nanosecond, but in the time it takes me to take in and process what you have shared with me, you might have changed. You might have grown in some way.
What if, when confronted with the other, we could allow ourselves a little space for not assuming we know and understand – a little space for the possibility of being surprised? What might we learn then? What else might become possible?
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