Stop! There beside you is another person. Meet him. Look at the Other’s face as he offers it to you. Through this face he shows you yourself.
Kester Brewin published a great article in the aftermath of the brutal attacks in Paris. In ›Satire Should Never Look Down: Thoughts on Engaging ‘The Other’ Post Charlie Hebdo‹ he is exploring what Emmanuel Levinas is saying about engaging the other and contrasts this with some spotlights from Slavoj Žižek.
What this means in practice is that engagement with those who are ‘other’ is a complex iterative process. Beginning with Levinas, we must take time to look into their eyes… but if we look deep enough, what we will see is not them, but what we look like to them… all in the hope that they are similarly engaged in this process of self-reflection too.
As we do this, we must learn to accept some ground rules. Firstly, this engagement is not about changing them. We do not come as colonists or patrons, not Pygmalion aristocrats trying to socialise others into our norms. Our first thought must be this: how do I look to this person? Do I look empathetic, loving or welcoming? Or do I look privileged, powerful and judgemental?
Secondly though, we do not come to this meeting of eyes with any illusion that either side is complete or coherent. Not only will others not understand me perfectly, they won’t even understand themselves perfectly—and this is equally true for me. I won’t be able to understand them perfectly, because neither do I completely understand myself.
This is perhaps why we cannot truly say ‘Je suis Charlie’: we neither know him, or ourselves, well enough.
You will learn about four lessons Brewin takes away from mulling over engaging the other after this brutal attack, and find out what he is thinking about the role satire plays in these contexts.
The question he closes his article with, is a strong one, that sums up the challenge of engaging the other, and being able to live in harmony with others. Miroslav Volf poses it in Exclusion and Embrace:
What kind of selves do we need to be in order to live in harmony with others?