For most of my life I have believed that if people are extremely different from me then there is something wrong with them.

The concept of otherness changed my life.

I love the idea that when we face any other person we face both kinship and the alien. For me the idea of otherness has led me to let go of phrases like, “No one could possibly think/feel/enjoy/resent that.’

When I started working at Telecom we were taught to use “empathy” on each of our calls. (Currently I work in a call cnetre) After some years of working as a counsellor I was surprised that this meant expressing sadness about whatever the customer was calling about.

Customer: Hi. My internet is going really slow.

Service Rep: Oh that’s no good but I can help you out with that!

There was no need to enquire or get a sense of how the customer was feeling because, as I was explained when I didn’t use a “consoling statement” in my opening sentence, no one is going to call our helpdesk unless they are unhappy about something.

I think that probably 90% of the time this is absolutely correct. (So it makes perfect sense to train your staff this way especially if the underlying belief is that most staff are functionally incapable of any real empathy and have to learn to fake it) The interesting thing about this though is that it removes the need to see the person. As I already know how the other person is feeling I have no need to be open to seeing them.

I don’t think Telecom does anything unusual here. It is just a very clear example of how we are taught to operate in the world.

I don’t believe we can always give up our preconceived ideas and prejudices. They are absolutely necessary for operating in life. The alternative is to be driven into complete inaction my having to consider every belief we have about everything over and over again…

But I am drawn to the idea that in order to love we must learn to see the other and in order to do this we must acquire the ability to, at times, give up our understandings of what it means to be human and to take up a stance of not knowing and naive enquiry.


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