When we encounter the universe that is another person, we have a menu of choices of how to respond. Rabbi Ariel Burger observes two challenges with otherness, in the sense that it can be used either as a weapon or a barrier: “we fall into the trap of not listening, [or] we are overfamiliar and think we already know the other.”
Perhaps we’re inclined to think the story of another is uninteresting, irrelevant or offensive. Perhaps we think we already know the other’s story and don’t really need to listen.
Abstract ideas are not always sufficient to sustain the practice of engagement. To truly witness another’s story sometimes requires something more robust: our real presence. It can be costly to bring one’s whole self to such an encounter; knowing when it is too high a price is important. And yet, unless and until we can in some way truly be present to the other, it’s hard to see how we reconnect what has come apart amongst us.
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