Sure We're Smart, But Are We OtherWise?

d6afc0ded746a287b32f_publicity_photo_2012_small.jpg
Martin is the author of OtherWise: The Wisdom You Need To Succeed In A Diverse And Divisive World (AMACOM, 2012)
d6afc0ded746a287b32f_publicity_photo_2012_small.jpg

Everybody thinks they’re smart. And out here in the white collar suburbs, a greater proportion than average actually are.  But how many of us are OtherWise?

That is, how many of us have acquired the wisdom of relating to people so unlike ourselves that they seem a little “other”?  Put another way, how many of us have friends of another race, a religion we know little about, or a different sexual orientation than our own?  I won’t even get into friends of a completely different political persuasion.

I always considered myself a relatively open-minded, live-and-let-live kind of guy. But in the course of researching my latest book, OtherWise, I discovered that the depths of my ignorance about other ways of life were darker than I suspected. I was a lot less tolerant than I thought, and my presumed ability to relate to the Other was shaky at best. The tolerance on which I prided myself seemed inadequate and problematic. I had a lot to learn. And as it turns out, it had less to do with the behavior of others than with my own inner workings – the unconscious patterns of thought and feeling that cause us to see the world in terms of “us” and “them.”

Sign Up for E-News

Those patterns of thought and behavior are evolutionary adaptations that allowed our prehistoric ancestors to traverse the African savannah safely when anyone outside their tribe was a potential enemy, but in the second decade of the 21st century, they’re shortsighted and dangerous.

They’re also common. Just look at the current political campaigns. 

My new book makes three recommendations for anyone who would be OtherWise.  The first is to acknowledge all the unconscious biases and prejudices that we carry around, the psychological mechanisms that cloud our judgment and decision-making, and the stone-age legacy that shapes our social life.  If you want to test yourself in this regard, take Harvard University’s Implicit Association Test (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/).

The second step is to better understand the people around us who have a different culture, racial background, sexual orientation, religious belief, or who we consider "different" in some other way. Ironically, the trick at this stage isn't learning more about their differences, but about all the ways they are just like us.  And you can’t gain that understanding in books, you have to spend time with people you consider “different” on their own turf.  Take the “other” to lunch.

The third step should be the easiest, but it requires the most discipline. It consists of refusing to go along with the common practice of otherizing people who are different. At the most basic level, that means objecting when someone tells a sexist or racist joke, not out of some sense of political correctness, but because it perpetuates a culture of "us" and "them." It's literally de-meaning because it robs people of their individuality.

Political and social labeling is akin to the same thing. Think about it, do you know anyone who is consistently and completely "left" or "right" on every issue? Does it make sense to apply those labels so freely? 

Being OtherWise doesn't mean papering over disagreements. But it does mean being able to disagree with people without demonizing them. Let’s make questioning people's motives, intelligence, or patriotism as inappropriate as picking your nose in public. Not only should we avoid doing it ourselves, but we should call each other on it.

Do all three and you’re on the road to being OtherWise.  Which, these days, is 90 percent of being smart.

Dick Martin is the author of OtherWise: the wisdom you need to succeed in a diverse and divisive world (AMACOM, June 2012). He lives in Summit and has written for such publications as the Harvard Business Review and Chief Executive magazine.

 The Guest Column is our readers' opportunity to write about a given issue or topic in an in-depth and educational manner.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Berkeley Heights

NJ07 Student Activists to Hold Town Hall on Gun Control

April 24, 2018

In less than a week, student activists from New Jersey’s Seventh Congressional District will be holding their Town Hall for Our Lives.

The town hall will take place in the meeting room of the Union Municipal Building from 7 to 9 p.m. Both Democratic and Republican candidates running for NJ07’s seat in the House of Representatives will be in attendance. At the event, they will ...

Paint by the Pond Event to be Held at Warinanco Park

ROSELLE/ELIZABETH, NJ - Children ages 4 to 12 years old are invited by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders to participate in the third annual Paint by the Pond. A project that teaches families about the importance of recycling while encouraging children to paint on cardboard, creating art from materials usually thrown away.

There will also be miniature houses made with the cardboard ...

Senior Center of the Chathams Holds Community Paper Shred Saturday, April 28

Tax time is the perfect chance to de-clutter and dispose of your unwanted paper and documents safely and securely at a spring Community Shred fundraiser to be held on Saturday, April 28 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at the Chatham Train Station parking lot in Chatham Borough.

All proceeds will benefit the Senior Center of the Chathams. The service is open to the public and participants do ...

Politics IS Government in Union County

April 22, 2018

After Bruce Patrson of Garwood was stopped from speaking at the Union County freeholder meeting of March 22 regarding the politics behind refusing to give the party line to a sitting freeholder I thought this brazen suppression of free speech could not go unanswered. A the the April 19 meeting I answered with these comments.

After ten years of following government in Union County I conclude ...

New Providence Borough Council to Cultivate Relationships with County Officials

April 12, 2018

NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ – Councilman Robert Robinson touted the importance of personal relationships with Union County representatives at the Monday, April 9 council meeting.

Union County Freeholders Angel Estrada and Bette Jane Kowalski attended the Street Smart campaign kick-off event prior to the meeting providing the council members with the opportunity to chat face-to-face with the two ...

Student Led #Rally4 Action to Protest Gun Violence Held Friday in Springfield

April 21, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, NJ - Fueled partially by their disappointment that students were not allowed to leave school for the nationwide student protest last month, student leaders planned a rally Friday on the nineteenth anniversary of the Columbine massacre in Colorado. At 4:30 p.m., students, parents, families, community members met at Chisholm Community Center to register voters, make ...

Student Led #Rally4 Action to Protest Gun Violence Held Friday in Springfield

April 21, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, NJ - Fueled partially by their disappointment that students were not allowed to leave school for the nationwide student protest last month, student leaders planned a rally Friday on the nineteenth anniversary of the Columbine massacre in Colorado. At 4:30 p.m., students, parents, families, community members met at Chisholm Community Center to register voters, make ...