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Do we tend to the consequences of our ‘othering’, or rush on with our plans? by Sue Johnston

On September 17th 2021, the Community Conversations team in CTW hosted a Conversation about Social Change asking the following questions.

  • What is the world needing that you as an NVC practitioner, or us collectively, as NVC practitioners, could contribute to?
  • What is it important to be doing right now?
  • What will deepen our lives and our connections to one another and the web of life?
  • What are our options for integrity in a time of increasing marginalisation of some, of collapsing systems and civilisations and the threat of extinction?  
  • How do we choose where to put our energies? 
  • What if we have low capacity or ill health? 
  • How can our practice of NVC support all of this?

This is Sue Johnston’s response to these questions. Sue poses some helpful questions you might want to ask in your groups and communities to nourish the sense of ‘we’ in our interactions amidst difference.


“My interest is around the disadvantaged, disabled, sensitive, outsiders, misfits and frankly rejects; those with conditions that suffer more than enough ignorance and intolerance – for example neurodivergence, CFS, fibromyalgia; illnesses that additionally lend themselves to imposter syndrome in my culture. People with conditions often undiagnosed or ordinary looking enough to still be measured against norms and found wanting. Repeatedly.

Who in NVC circles may, for example, experience significant difficulties in “the basics” such as remembering “an occasion when”; in identifying feelings and/or needs; or in making clear requests. Perhaps because their executive function isn’t orientated that way. Perhaps for other, maybe unknown, reasons.

Here are some questions that come:

  • What does it cost our humanity when we protect our own comfort/perceived safety above another’s basic well being, when our fears blind us to wider consequences?
  • What gets in the way of our curiosity about their story?
  • What hampers our curiosity about the negative consequences for them and ourselves when we other them?
  • What stops us seeing when we are othering?
  • Could it be that taking time to grieve might  address something of our failings at such a time?
  • Do we tend to the consequences of our othering, or rush on, away, with our own plans and preoccupations? And what is it that orientates us when we choose between these?
  • When we focus on removing people who interrupt our plans for harmony and growth, is it possible that we undermine the very qualities we seek?
  • Are our time frames askew; when we “protect ourselves from inconvenients”; what happens when we one day become the inconvenient ones?
  • What is this process doing to our culture?
  • What are the children learning from seeing this happening around them?
  • Could it be the self same approach that is eliminating inconvenient life everywhere? Weeds, trees, bees?
  • When particular individuals with difficulties consistently run into the personal boundaries of others and therefore become isolated, to what degree is it “their problem”? Could it also mean anything for those personal boundaries? Are they really as personal as we may believe?
  • Could we be reinforcing the very prejudices we long to address?
  • Is there any value in having “difficult” people in our midst?

In such troubled times, when there is so much we are each struggling with, could it be that gathering such folk in might better serve the whole? Might listening to them be a worthy endeavour? Not to “help them” or “support them”, but to learn and live and model interdependence, and much more besides?

Obviously I am orientated in a particular direction, given my experiences of loss of self and others; of isolation. And at the same time I’ve been on both sides; I’ve found people very daunting indeed, and blocked many out. I’m longing to listen for what I am missing when I am convinced of my position; longing to find patience and humility to put the health of interdependence and relationship before my needs or yours. Whenever, that is, I have sufficient capacity to do so without jeopardising my basic health and ability to contribute (interesting, “perfectly reasonable” boundary, right there;  what does it cost, I wonder?). 

And even if I withdraw from you into self, for I am a limited being, I want to be in the “us” as I do so. To pause with my wake as it ripples into your life and beyond. I’m guessing that at the end of days especially, I’ll  regard my wake with less regret, for every inclusive, less ‘Suecentric’ choice I make now.  I find personal comfort such a burden to drag through this time and place, both of whom are calling out for love with woefully inadequate response. Comfort has a way of drawing me away and devouring my humanity.

Written in gratitude to the ones I have othered in any degree, who have endured my clumsy attempts to reach out in curiosity, who have indeed humbled me with their stories. And written in grief for my negligence in witnessing the wake of most of my othering, more times than I cared to know.”

Further reading

An instruction manual for and about dissenters by Miki Kashtan