Becoming Conscious of the ‘Other Other’ 
Our attempts to engage ‘the other’ open us up to real complications – in particular with regard to the ‘other others’ who are by definition not being helped by us if we are focusing on helping one set of others. We might generously let someone pull out in front of us in a line of traffic, but this might be profoundly unhelpful to the person behind us whom we can’t see, who is trying to get to an urgent appointment.
As Gav pointed out in the comments on the previous post, once we start thinking about trying to help the ‘other other’ we are immediately caught in a loop which goes on to the ‘other other other’ and beyond into absurdity.
The question then becomes, what can I do in response to this? One answer is to do nothing. I can’t help anyone without potentially hurting someone else – I can’t let someone out into traffic without potentially messing up someone else’s journey – so I should do nothing and just get on with my own life. I hope that we can dismiss this as a lazy and selfish response that denies our human ability to act and do good.
I have seen some evidence of this path being taken, but far more common is the alternative which is to attempt to do everything. And I’ve seen too many Christian ministers attempting this to even begin to count them. There is so much need, so much hurt, so many people to minister to that I need to give every single moment to serving the other and the other others and the other other others… until I burn out and drop down dead.
In ‘Other’ I quote John Milbank, who uses the example of our debt of gratitude to those who have given their lives in war for our freedom:
‘Where I cannot be reconciled with the lost one, I owe him an infinite debt of mourning and regret. So great a debt do I in fact owe, that my energies cannot legitimately be freed up to perform my duties towards the living. But those demands of the living also are infinite and infinitely legitimate, and so, here […] arises an irresolvable problem: I should not cease mourning and apologizing, and yet I should.’
Having been ‘saved’ we owe such an infinite debt of gratitude that we simply cannot work hard enough to repay it. So we work so so hard, so hard that we don’t see our families, so hard that we don’t get recreation time, so hard that we don’t see that we are killing ourselves in the process…
Earlier in the book I encourage people to ‘forget about resurrection’ – because living in the comfortable knowledge of it leads to apathy and no motivation to act. But it is here in the face of this infinite debt that resurrection comes back to us from the dead:
It is faith in resurrection that prevents us from being obliterated by this huge obligation to serve the whole mass of needy humanity.
A belief that ‘this is not it’ is dangerous because it can appear to legitimize inaction in the face of human rights abuses and environmental catastrophe. But the hope of resurrection also frees us from the infinite obligation to have to serve every single other in every part of our lives. And it’s from this base that we can move forward, slip the deadlock, and actually begin to act in good faith.