By: Sophia He
Consciously or unconsciously, our communities contribute to our identity and sense of self. While each of us has our own unique identity, whether a community is one that “bridges” or “others” plays a crucial role in the formation of a healthy identity and ultimately, a healthy community.
Othering is a pattern of exclusion and marginalization based on having identities that are different from the norm. As John A. Powell, the Director of the Haas Institute at UC Berkeley says, “Othering is not about liking or disliking someone. It is based on the conscious or unconscious assumption that a certain identified group poses a threat to a favored group.” What is the norm or the favored group, though, is simply a social construct where arbitrary lines of separation are drawn based on differences. They may believe “these people think differently than me,” “they threaten my way of life,” “they cannot be trusted,” and, sometimes, even “they are less than fully human.” Often we see these perceived differences and othering manifest in politics, race, and gender. However, in acknowledging the inevitability and richness of differences, people who bridge instead of “other” may observe“they may think differently than me, but they are worth listening to,” and “they deserve to be part of the conversation, even if we disagree,” and “my life is richer because of our connection.”
In the mission statement of Living Room Conversations, the emphasis is on bridging; conversations for connection not for the purpose of persuasion, but rather, for sharing experiences and deepening our understanding of other perspectives. Not only do Living Room Conversations prioritize and encourage participants to provide each other with common courtesy and respect but also to actively seek people who share different perspectives to join in conversations. Through bridging, Living Room Conversations exemplify the creation of a community that fosters not “saming” but “belonging.”