Becoming Conscious of the ‘Other Other’ [1]

Whilst driving the other day I was following a car which was progressing very slowly. It didn’t have a fish badge on the back, but I couldn’t help thinking that they were just waiting for a bigger one to be fitted at the next service because they very graciously stopped to let every car out out of every junction, waving more and more people in front, stopping to let people cross the road and generally being as annoying as hell.

It’s a silly example, but highlights a very difficult point. With their forward focus, the driver of that car was blinkered to only see the ‘others’ in front of them. And they certainly did what they could to help these others – letting them out and getting them on their way more quickly.

But what they couldn’t see was the ‘other others’ behind them. I wasn’t in a particular rush, but we can imagine a situation where someone in a car behind might be desperate to try to get to an important meeting or appointment, and by helping the visible others get on their way, the kind driver is seriously hindering the invisible other, the ‘other other’ that they can’t see.

How should we respond to this? How can we attempt to live in a way that takes some account of the ‘other other’ rather than just the other that we see in front of us? In a way this is a problem that is exacerbated in our modern world. Because we interact with so many people – consciously and unconsciously – our potential impact on other others is enormous. We simply cannot know in any rich sense the vast majority of the people that we meet. The homeless person who asks us for spare change – do we know if they will spend it on food, or on alcohol? Should we care if they do? Should we care if our giving them change for drink will end up harming someone else further down the line?

I’ll be trying to work through some of this over the next few posts, drawing in some advent themes as well as some examples from the gospels and extracts from the book, and attempting to drill down to practicalities as far as possible. Hope you’ll enjoy exploring with me.


4 responses to “Becoming Conscious of the ‘Other Other’ [1]”

  1. You could adapt the Abe Lincoln quote to say “You can please some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time but you can’t please all the people all the time”. I think I should be aware of Others but also true to myself (easier said than done) which might not please everyone. How people react to me is how they perceive me. Your driver can be viewed as courteous or slow depending on whether you are on time or late.

    Good question about the homeless person, giving money creates this problem, it’s a universal token rather than a gift to meet his needs (thinking out loud here). If I bought him a sandwich that might be better (assuming he says he is hungry).

    I look forward to your other posts

  2. What about the “other other others”? Those that were stuck behind the “other others”, not realising that the “other others” were just stuck because the “others” were being let out first by the kindly driver and decided to give up their cars and cycle to work?

    Then what about the “other other other others” who lost their jobs after a decline in car manufacturing since the “other other others” were now all cycling to work?

  3. acetate monkey

    Whenever people talk about becoming aware of X group it feels like they are expecting our vision to widen and encompass them as well as keep sight of everything we currently see like a charitable externally facing panopticon. In fact, going back to your posts about technology giving us too much information too quickly, what happens is similar to the issue you alude to with the driver: our fields of vision can only accomodate so much (or it becomes too much info and the system crashes), and by seeing X we physically or psychologically can’t see Y group behind us. Would adding or attending to multiple mirrors help to see wider, or if the driver did weigh up each other other other etc that Gav mentions would they then be unable to drive, stuck in a computation of the on-balance best action?

    I know this isn’t about homelessness per se but the money question is an issue. It brings to mind a story I was told by my partner that she spoke to a guy who was frustrated with being given food and drink (for fear that he’d buy drugs). He wanted money: nobody could see the ingrowing toenails in his shoes which he needed to buy nail scissors for.

    I’m looking forward to reading some of your explorations of this idea. ๐Ÿ™‚
    BTW is the old lady a representation of who you actually overtook or a stereotype? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Yeah, the photo is pretty accurate ๐Ÿ˜‰

    And Gav – as you’ve made clear, things get very complicated very quickly!