The Question of the OTHER

This past week has reminded me of this book by Tzvetan Todorov I read back in college (in Romania). It’s an analysis of how people and cultures relate to OTHER-ness. If I remember correctly, when faced with an OTHER who is deeply and radically different, people feel fear. They feel threatened. They feel uncertain. And then they choose one of the following behavioral options:

Todorov

a) they feel superior to the OTHER, they attempt to conquer or make the OTHER their subject or subaltern. That’s how the European conquerors related to the people Native to the (now) American continent. That’s how the Nazis related to Jews.
b) they appreciate the culture of the OTHER more than their own, and they “go native.” They “convert” to the OTHER’s culture and give up their own. Todorov offers the example of one European officer who preferred the Native American way of life.

c) they respect the OTHER as a different and equal partner, and build an ethical and respectful dialogue and relationship. They coexist.

Is option a) how many people in the U.S. relate to Obama, because he is in many ways the OTHER (different from them, and from their idea of a president)? Does this explain the death threats and scary behaviors, the stuffed monkey at political rallies, the black-face parties?

The question of the OTHER also has direct applications to public relations. Many times, the organization or the CEO feel they know better, they’re smarter that the public. “If they knew what I know, they’d agree with me.” The examples when the organization bows to the public and takes their lead are very rare. Do you have  any? And finally option c), is what PR should be, as defined by Grunig’s excellence model, the relationship management approach to public relations, and, in social media circles “the new PR,” or “PR 2.0.”

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