Please Sir – May I have an “other”?

Every year, around November, there is a Big Lebowski beer garden held at UBC. It’s great fun – people show up in costume, drink white Russians and watch the film at the school’s movie theatre, often shouting out dialogue along with the characters. At the beginning of my third year of undergrad, my husband (then boyfriend), a couple of friends and I decided we would go. The Big Lebowski is one of my favorite films and the chance to sit around in my bathrobe, with the people I love, watching a movie I know by heart, was too good an opportunity to pass up. What made it even more spectacular was the fact that one girl who came along with us had never seen the film and didn’t realize that my boyfriend was dressed up as Walter. She told me the next day, “yeah, I thought he was cute but had really weird taste in clothes.”

The night was a gas and we had a great time – right up until the end. As we were leaving the theatre, we noticed that there was a young man passed out on the floor. He had obviously drank way too much and was lying unconscious, with his top half in the middle of the aisle and his lower half hidden behind a row of seats. People were literally stepping over his head if their effort to exit the building. One girl, in her highly inebriated state, tripped and stepped on his arm.

Horrified by this collective lack of interest in this young man’s state of duress, my boyfriend rushed over to help clear him from the aisle and I ran out to the concession stand to get some water. I quickly relayed the information to the attendant that there was a man passed out inside and asked her for her help. She looked at me and scowled.

“Bottled water costs two dollars.”

Dumbstruck, I repeated that this water wasn’t in fact for me, but for the man-of-dubious-medical-condition lying in the auditorium.

“Could I please just have a glass of water?” I asked.

“I don’t have any cups,”was the response I received. As I didn’t have any cash on me, I ran back into the theatre and procured the money from one of my friends.

“They wouldn’t just give it to you?” He asked, incredulously. I just rolled my eyes in response.

Luckily, after getting some water into his system the fellow began to come around. I wanted to take him to urgent care, but one of his friends showed up (I guess one of them had finally realized that he hadn’t left with the group) and he promised that he would take good care of him from then on out. He thanked us for our help.

I gave him the water bottle, told him to make sure his friend took small sips and asked one more time if either of them wanted a ride to the hospital.

They declined.

I don’t understand how over one hundred people could leave a movie theatre and walk over the body of someone unconscious on the ground without so much as a second glance.

I don’t understand how you could slow down and swerve in order to avoid someone lying prone in the middle of the road.

I don’t understand how anyone could hit someone with a vehicle and flee the scene.

I cannot fathom how anyone could walk by a little girl, dying in a puddle of her own blood, and not, at the least, phone for medical help.

It is beyond understanding.

I do however understand that as as society we like binaries. Good-Evil. Young-Old. Black-White. Us-Them. We like to program our rules, our relationships, our identities through a process of “othering.”

We are, what others are not. And events like the one in Guangdong China feed into this system.

It works wonders for building self-esteem and ego. We can feel good about ourselves through the failings of our “other.” On a micro scale, this could be anything as banal as a sense of satisfaction when you find out that someone didn’t get the job they wanted, or they gained weight, or their girlfriend dumped them. On a macro scale, other factors of huge significance, come into play. Political, economic and ideological systems are the backbone to what is essentially a global version of “I know you are, but what am I?”

This system of “othering” also exists within the confines of our society. The political, economic and social stratification of individuals is imperative not only to global Geo-politics, but the functioning and continuing of domestically operated, social, political and economic institutions.

In simplest terms: it keeps the status quo.

It is only when we lose our sense of self, built out of this “othering”, that we as a society, or as individuals, must confront and question our failings. This is difficult because it is not often that a public event of such magnitude forces us to pause, reflect, asses or deconstruct enduring systems (social, political, economic, etc.) because we have created the myth that because we are not our “other”, we don’t need to.

I chose not to watch the video of this incident. But to those who did, I ask you these questions: Why? Did it make you feel better doing so? Did it reinforce how you felt about how you would act in that kind of scenario? And how did it affect, if at all, your view of the people involved, and the country they live in?

I am not saying we should move the microscope away from others, nor am I saying that the systems operating in Canada are equal to the systems operating in China.  Just the opposite in fact.  We must continue to draw attention to perceived and enduring injustice everywhere and question the validity of existing, long-held systems and institutions, so we don’t have to wait for an event of such tragic proportions to force us to do so.

We should all sit firmly under the looking glass, lest we start to drown in our own reflections.

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Vanessa Woznow

Writer, runner, ranter, reader. I write about all things.

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