Otherization in the Midst of Collaboration By Ela Erozan Gursel

bIt was my second year in college. I took a first-year international relations course for which I had to read Orientalism by Edward Said. This was my first official encounter by a well-defined concept of ‘the other.’ Said defined ‘the other’ as lower, less important, different or even strange. The other was the Eastern world from the perspective of the Western scholars. All of a sudden there was a concise differentiation between the Western ‘us’ and Eastern ‘them.’ After this concept was created, the gap between us and them only widened over time. Similar traditions, cultures or political affiliations grouped together and opposed ‘the others’ who didn’t think alike. In the case of Western and Eastern civilizations, it was the conflict between Christianity and Islam, modern and traditional, introvert and extrovert, resolution and war, etc…

 This ‘otherization’ is not only in international affairs but in every aspect of life: school, business, politics, academia… You need to define yourself, join a side and fight to reach a goal. Sometimes we tend to take our competitors, colleagues or simply people who don’t think like us as the other and we have difficulty interacting with them.

In an age of welcomed collaboration this ‘otherization’ creates an oxymoron. As human beings we like either to relate with one and other or oppose. However, in most cases we need to learn how to disagree yet listen and understand other opinions. We cannot expect to agree with everyone but even if we have a strong feeling against a people’s opinions, we can still hear them out and communicate without forcing them to change their thoughts.

I watched a persuasive video on TED Talks by Elizabeth Lesser, a democrat activist. Lesser is the co-founder of Omega Institute, the largest American learning center with a focus on health, wellness, spirituality, creativity and social change. She has worked with international leading figures in the field of healing. As she explicitly articulates in her talk, she has two characters of a ‘mystic’ and a ‘warrior’ within herself.  The mystic and the warrior always conflict with each other. In the end of this debate in her mind, she finds practical solutions to ongoing issues. She suggests a step-by-step Ubuntu solution to stop widening this gap between us and the others.

What is Ubuntu? It is an African philosophy that Nielson Mandela lives by. In an earlier interview Mandela explains Ubuntu with a little story. In the old days during Mandela’s childhood, when a traveler stopped by their village, he didn’t have to ask for water or food but people in the village would give him something to drink and eat. They would entertain this outsider with utmost respect as their valued guest. This is one aspect of Ubuntu. Ubuntu also means helpfulness, sharing, trusting and serving the community. Elizabeth Lesser sums up Mandela’s Ubuntu: ‘I need you in order to be me and you need me in order to be you.’

Moved by this philosophy, she initiated ‘Take the Other to Lunch’ campaign. As a core democrat, she took her ‘other,’ a Republican activist to lunch. They established some ground rules before they met. They promised to be real. They agreed not to interrupt each other, defend oneself or try to persuade the other. They took one step towards each other just to learn ‘who the other is’.  They asked questions like ‘What issues concern you? Share some life experience that influenced you greatly.’ The purpose of her lunch was to engage in conversation and get to know the other that she felt estranged from. The more they conversed without being judgmental, the more open they became. Sincerity was the foundation of their new-born relationship. None of the two expected to be good friends or agree on any sensitive issues that they felt strong about. However, necessary ground was built for discussing differences and melting away stereotypes of ‘the other.’

Regardless of our professions, we all become ‘us’ and ‘others’ in certain circumstances. The best way to break our prejudices is to reach out for the person we’re so against. Let’s not focus on differences but rather similarities that unite us. It is the time to collaborate to win greater victories!

elaerozangurselEla Erozan Gürsel writes a weekly column named “Değişim Yelpazesi ” on global business trends for Dünya Gazetesi on behalf of Datassist for almost two years. Her feature topics include: green energy; climate change; impacts of financial crisis on companies, sectors and regions; innovative technologies in sciences, human resources and management; social networks transforming business and politics; changing dynamics of marketing and branding.

She also writes articles for international magazines published in Singapore.

Prior to her writing career, she worked at Datassist as a Project Manager in a project that combines human resources and mobile communications with the aim to connect blue-collar workers and employers through mobile phones. Before engaging in this exciting project, she was in pharmaceutical sales working for a multinational company. She graduated from American University, Washington, DC, majoring in International Studies with a concentration on International Business and Europe. She worked in Washington D.C. as an Account Manager at a boutique telemarketing firm that specializes in fund raising and publication renewals. She speaks Turkish, English, French, and Spanish. She currently resides in Singapore with her husband.


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