Growing up in an upper-middle-class white family in the United States, I’ve had little to no negative experience as the victim of othering. I think most of my experience with othering comes from being – sometimes subconsciously – the otherer. Othering is harmful and can result in physical violence – my mind goes to the Unite the Right Rally in August of 2016 just minutes from my house – or the misapplication of prejudices and generalizations to people just because they identify with a certain community.

My parents grew up with religious parents and stopped practicing their religions once they got older. In our house, religion was never denounced, never encouraged, it was just there. As I got older and began to ask questions my parents would talk about why they left. I only really ever got that point of view and therefore saw secularism as the correct way. I belong to the community of non-religious people and saw religious people as others. I didn’t regard them as less valuable human beings in any way, but I did think they were just wrong about that specific area. It led me to be less open minded when learning about religion, or when hearing arguments for relgion, or when listening to religious justifications for actions. It was harder for me to understand religious peoples’ experiences once I grouped them all into one category that I labeled “wrong,” and tucked away. Probably the majority of my friends growing up were religious in some way, and it was never something that came up or was discussed or even really thought about, but the whole world of religion was something I never understood and never really tried to understand. 

It was not until recently, I would say in the last five years, that I began to realize that religion isn’t really one size fits all and that people experience it differently, turn to it for different reasons, and commit to it at various levels. Asking questions and trying to understand individual experiences opened my eyes. I gained a deeper understanding of issues relating to religion and even if I still disagreed with someone on something, it didn’t mean that I was right, and an entire community was wrong. It just meant that an individual and myself disagreed on that particular issue. Considering my own opinion and lifestyle’s subjectivity has helped me have more productive and meaningful conversations and arguments – debates, I think have a less negative connotation – with people. I can understand more of what they think and feel when I put what I think and feel about an issue aside for a minute.

Avoiding othering people of the Middle East is crucial to having a true understanding of the region. If you see your lifestyle as the only correct way, you’ll never be able to attempt to understand others’ experiences or reasons, or values. Putting your own thoughts aside and trying to understand something from someone else’s perspective is important when we are trying to understand such a complex, conflict-ridden region with cultures different from what we may be used to.