In sociology there is a term called the “other.” It refers to people different than oneself in a variety of categories: ethnicity, gender, political party, sexual orientation, religion.
At Macalester College in St. Paul where I work, the other is everywhere.
I find it tempting to deal with the other categorically:
“She’s in category X. Thus I can manage her in such and such a way.”
But real men and women, each a blend of personality, values and nuances, interfere with such generalizations. So I feel challenged to engage the variegated particularities of each person.
Here is an other I’ve grown to appreciate deeply: Rabbi Barry Cytron, professor and Jewish chaplain at the college.
We meet Tuesday mornings. He is brilliant and engaging. We’ve been talking about hermeneutics, sin, human nature, the role of Jewish and Christian traditions, the Shema, parables, midrash and other theological goods.*
Not that we agree on everything; in this dialog conflict is inevitable.
In my worst character moments the rabbi and all the other others are little more than stick figures boxed into labeled containers. I take this to be a sign of prejudice.
In saner moments I see the “other” as distinct, valuable and complex. Hardly the one-dimensional characters my darker side wishes them to be.
Hermeneutic: interpretation (here, of the Bible)
Shema: Deut 6:4-9, Matt 22:37
Midrash: commentary on Scripture, often from rabbis in the ancient world