Seeing through the eyes of the ‘other’ | Column

You know, I have been working on reconciliation for years. You don't grow up in the inner city of Kansas City, Missouri, without wanting peace and justice and reconciliation to happen and feeling just a bit lost when it doesn't.



You know, I have been working on reconciliation for years. You don’t grow up in the inner city of Kansas City, Missouri, without wanting peace and justice and reconciliation to happen and feeling just a bit lost when it doesn’t.


I thought that I pretty much had my act together until I got my first Kansas City Chiefs hoodie as a gift from my brother – and then wore it on a multi-cultural immersion trip to a Native American reservation.


OUCH!


I have never felt like I was the insensitive one – the one that dismissed another culture’s feelings. But I did. And I was, well, embarrassed that I did. Worse, I wondered what that meant for me as a person who works for reconciliation.


Seeing through the eyes of “the other” is a critical and necessary goal if we are to value diversity seriously or if reconciliation and perhaps even unity is one of our goals. “Other” can become a real limitation when we can’t actually imagine the circumstances of the other person – when we cannot see life though their eyes, experience events as they do, or feel the way that they do.


More challenging, it leaves us with only a limited ability to genuinely engage those whose circumstances and journeys are different than our own.


It is simply easier to ignore “other” peoples’ fears, worries or concerns. It is easier to fear “other” peoples’ deeply held desires if they differ from our own. It is harder to find common ground when those “other” people never seem to care enough about me.


But this is the only world we have. We are all in this together. We need to begin the work of engaging the “other” with the same respect and understanding that we would want for ourselves.


My experience visiting the Native American reservation with my Kansas City Chiefs hoodie taught me, as a means to see through the eyes of the other, to practice the following:


• We must attempt to place ourselves in the shoes or place of the other. This comes from the reality that, when we don’t come from the same place, we need to be intentional and deliberate about pursuing an understanding of the journey of the other, particularly those who are marginalized. Place yourselves in the shoes of the other. Without this we can make serious mistakes that hinder unity, including passing judgment and being insensitive to one’s personal struggle or lack thereof.


• And we must be willing to hear the voice of the other. This literally means actively listening, inviting them to speak, and then holding back the need to jump in with our own answers and our own needs. Stories give access to history. History that needs to be heard, and once told, will reveal who we really are beneath what appears on the surface.


Unity and reconciliation is a process that happens when we take the time to genuinely know one another. We must share the stories of our separate journeys, acknowledge those paths of distinct and shared struggles, and be prepared to “feel” both our common and varied senses of fear, pain and even victory. A goal of reconciliation is to see and to be seen – to see the beauty in each one’s journey and to see and acknowledge each one’s struggle. Reconciliation to me is to be seen for how God has made us, and to know our value for it.