Essays, poems and Stories of an African-American

Sunday, 17 March 2013

From ‘Othering’ to ‘midsting’

“I am lucky I did not get HIV,” said a very excited young man giving testimony before over 500 gathered people. “I am lucky I did not die,” said a woman who had survived an accident involving a bus and a train in which 39 people were killed. These are a few of the many statements we hear or are ready to engage in when we thinking about ourselves and shutting out the feelings of others. To some this kind of talk is utter insensitivity. This insensitivity is also called ‘othering’ today. This is the transfer of blame or guilt or judgement to others and making ourselves blameless, pure or superior.

A long time ago all animals were supposed to keep the fires burning once a year. This was a ritual they had to keep to drive the night away for one day in a year. The night would slip in slowly and spoil the ritual. They had to choose an animal that would hear the night coming. The animal that would be able to hear the night coming would be awarded the coveted position of sitting amidst the gathering during all meetings. It was called midsting.  The elephant stood up and so loudly proclaimed he was the best of listeners because he had very large ears. He looked down upon the bat, the other only contender. The elephant in its self-righteous stance despised the bat.

The Bible has two parables: Luke 18:9-14 (Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector) and Luke 15: 11-32 (Parable of the Prodigal Son). We meet the tax collector brought into the fold even if he was distancing himself due to his mortification.  We also meet a father, who filled with compassion runs towards his long lost son, embraces him, brings him back to the house amidst all other members and gives him a special place at the table.

 The HIV world has raised two polarized contexts. Those who are negative tend to call themselves “lucky” and those not negative are thought of as “unlucky.” Some religions and cultures have tended to look at death as a punishment and those who are alive to be fortunate. This has influenced the way we speak about disease, death and challenges. Life is a basic gift. It is a source of joy, fulfillment and hope no doubt. It would be meaningless if we did not do all in our power to make joy, fulfillment and reduce a sense of hopelessness for others. Life is an opportunity for bringing about hope in hopeless situations.

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