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The Other Side

Seated around a solid wooden table beside a cozy window streaming with sunlight, a close-knit group and I were enjoying pastries, warm coffee, and gentle camaraderie. As we caught up on each other’s lives, a woman shared about a vacation she had recently taken.

When booking her hotel, she hadn’t realized that right across the street was a large encampment where numerous unhoused people were staying. From her high-up hotel room window, she had a bird’s-eye view of the people below. She said this had given her a “clearer picture of how the other side lived.”  

While my initial reaction was to recoil at what I saw as “othering”, her comment propelled me to evaluate the ways that I, too, can very easily see and treat people as “other”.

The woman’s words hit me hard, given that someone in my own family who I dearly love was evicted from his home last summer and temporarily landed on the streets of our large city. 

There is no other side. He will always be my beloved family member who can bake up a storm

Frantically, I tried to help him, while still setting safe boundaries to protect my young children (i.e., due to his substance use and other challenges, it wasn’t safe to move him into our home). While we had been able to get him to another safe location to live, he recently chose to leave that place. The writing is again on the wall for potential homelessness this summer, given the high-risk lifestyle he lives. 

For many years, my heart has broken repeatedly over this loved one. I never fathomed the pain of having a close family member in this situation. I’ve done all I can—but it hasn’t been enough to turn the tide.  But, despite everything, I could never see this loved one as “on the other side.” There is no other side. He will always be my beloved family member who can bake up a storm, loves to play the guitar, and once beamed when he won a silver medal in a martial arts competition. If he is on some “other side”—then so am I.

When we see people experiencing hardship or struggles as on a different side from us, it becomes much easier to dehumanize them and discount their pain. It paves the way to blame them for the situation they are in, to look away from their suffering.  

And yet, as much as I hate to admit it, I likewise unconsciously classify others as “on the other side.” I postulate you do, too. If we look deep inside our hearts with humility, pretty much all of us will realize we, too, sometimes see or react to others as if they are “on the other side.” 

I go into the church foyer after the Sunday service and gravitate towards the people I know and love.

Our individual unconscious biases drive us towards othering people who appear different than us or who live through challenges and circumstances far different than we have ever known. 

I go into the church foyer after the Sunday service and gravitate towards the people I know and love. Do I even notice the newcomers? If I do notice newcomers and welcome them, are they more likely to be the ones who appear to be in a similar socioeconomic bracket, age, season of life, or ethnicity as myself? It’s not intentional—I’m not purposefully leaving people out—it’s an unconscious draw towards people I see as “on my same side.”

I even find myself forming ableist assumptions about people who live with various forms of disability, despite being a person with a highly visible disability myself. 
Although I utterly despise when people stare at my atypically shaped wheelchair, craning their necks and bugging out their eyes for a longer view as they pass me by, I still am not immune to reacting to others with ableism or excessive curiosity.

However, while unconscious biases exist in all of us, that doesn’t mean we can’t build our awareness and care toward the people around us, consciously opening our hearts and eyes to those God brings across our path. With intentional justice and compassion, we can actively follow Christ’s example of loving our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:31).

And we can take to heart the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 10: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ… You are judging by appearances. If anyone is confident that they belong to Christ, they should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as they do.”

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash


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