Written by: Tricia Brouk, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Being able to support speakers in sharing their powerful expertise is a privilege, and I caught up with Sonja Pemberton to talk about how she believes that by actively dispelling the myth of the other, we empower advocacy, allyship, and influence. The outcome is an understanding and acknowledgment of how we “other” and the uncovering of opportunities to eradicate this construct in our global society using a contemplative awareness-based approach.
As part of humanity labeled as “other,” Sonja Pemberton has spent her career illuminating and standing resolute in the need to stop the conscious and unconscious inclination to “other.” Embodying intentional, persuasive, and meaningful actions, she authentically articulates the impact of “othering.”
What is othering, and how might it show up?
Othering is a conscious or unconscious choice to focus on a broad range of human differences perpetuating exclusionary practices and behaviors. Most often, it first shows up in ourselves, albeit unconsciously. Imagine a continuum with “less than” on the left and “better than” on the right. Othering occurs on either side of the center point. The impact depends on the inner voice that compares us to another person. Those subtle or not-so-subtle thoughts about whether I am good enough, smart enough, or perhaps attractive enough are on the left. The opposite could be true on the right side of the continuum with feelings of better than. The perception of ourselves relative to another individual or group of individuals drives our behaviors; either perception can have consequences for us and the perceived “other.”
These perceptions and comparisons include various classifications and stigmatizations, including physical ability, religious affiliation, marital status, gender identification, socio-economic status, mental health status, ethnicity, and many other characterizations.
How does othering self create a propensity to other someone else?
When we cannot perceive and appreciate our uniqueness as an individual without comparison, of being less than or better than another, we have a propensity to other someone else. Many times these thoughts lie beneath our consciousness. These assumptions and or beliefs become issues when they influence our behaviors as we go about our daily lives, specifically how we interact with the perceived other.
When our assumptions influence how we make decisions at work, at home, or in our society, coupled with any influence or power we may have over the livelihood or protection of the perceived other, it can have devastating ramifications.
How does the collective consciousness play a role in othering or not?
Our ability to recognize we are WHAT we think, not what we THINK we are, is the key to overcoming the propensity to Other. It is an introspective, transformational journey to investigate what lies beneath our conscious awareness and impacts our behavior. This journey requires the identification of the origins of our beliefs and understanding the effect on our thoughts and actions.
You talk about the neuroscience behind Othering. Can you share more about this?
Neuroception, interoception, and neuroplasticity…all words we are hearing much more about recently. When you consider definitions of these terms, they all impact the construct of Othering. Neuroception is our ability to ascertain if we are safe in situations or with people. Interoception is our ability to sense feelings inside our body, allowing us to self-regulate when necessary. Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to create new neural pathways leading to new habit formation.
We each take part in a series of habits as we go about our day, from the route we take to work to a multitude of actions that require our attention. Many of these are instinctual; we do them without much thought. I like to use the analogy of Freud’s Iceberg Theory to illustrate this point. What we witness of an individual is only the tip of the iceberg; it's what they allow people to see and know about them. The complexities of their life journey are hidden beneath the iceberg’s surface.
Interestingly, we are not aware of many of our behavior drivers. It is essential to realize our thoughts and beliefs trigger feelings that influence our behavior. To mitigate Othering, we must identify the origins of our beliefs to change our behaviors. I designed the MindShift process to create and empower behavior change using social and cultural neuroscience research.
How would you describe the YOU are the Change movement?
They are a group of committed individuals willing to be the change agents to elicit change they would like to see in the world. They are ready to embark on the internal journey for the individual transformation required and model this change in their families, communities, religious institutions, and workplaces. They realize individual change is the most powerful way to impact worldwide issues.
What can we do today to take one step closer to connection and one step further from othering?
We must have an:
Open mind - Lead with curiosity.
Open heart - Have compassion and empathy for the lived experience of others.
Open Will - Be courageous and willing to act when necessary.
When we find ourselves in a situation where we could make a difference in the life of someone, we must ask ourselves, what does this moment need from me?
We will change ourselves and inspire societal transformation when we commit to these simple actions!
Sonja Pemberton is a captivating speaker, transformational catalyst, and coach. Her relaxed and engaging style prompts inspiring and empowering engagements. With a career spanning more than 25 years, she has been privileged to lead, mentor, and coach across all career levels and generations, sharing her knowledge and expertise in leadership development, culture, inclusion, and performance improvement. Her industry experience includes startups to Fortune 100 companies. Sonja holds a master’s in organizational development and management and is currently pursuing a doctorate in leadership and change. The movement she founded, “Dispelling the Myth of The Other,” has been spoken on and taught worldwide.
Tricia Brouk, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Tricia Brouk is an internationally award-winning director. She has worked in theater, film, and television for three decades. Tricia founded The Big Talk Academy, where she certifies speakers in the art of public speaking. She was the executive producer of Speakers Who Dare and TEDxLincolnSquare, and now The Big Talk Live. She is currently being featured in a new documentary called Big Stages, which highlights the transformation of her speakers. Tricia’s commitment and devotion to inclusion are a priority as all of her shows, events, and communities are diverse. She curates and hosts the Speaker Salon in NYC, The Big Talk, an award-winning podcast on iTunes and YouTube. The Influential Voice: Saying What You Mean for Lasting Legacy was a #1 New Release on Amazon in December 2020. She was awarded Top Director of 2019 by the International Association of Top Professionals and Top Ten Speaker Coaches in Yahoo Finance in 2021. Her documentaries have received critical acclaim—winning Best Documentary Short at The Olympus Film Festival and Los Angeles Movie Awards. Tricia has spoken at Forbes, Pride Global, New York Public Library, I Heart My Life Live and The National Organization for Rare Disorders.