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Thoughts on “the other”

When Jean Paul Sartre tells us our freedom in “monstrous”, we immediately run into problems: namely, with six billion of us running around, each and every one with his own “monstrous” freedom, eventually my freedom is going to collide head-on with someone else’s freedom. Sartre spent a lot of time on this issue and the problem of the other, eloquently expounded in his play “No Exit” which contains the line that is the title of this post – “Hell is other people”.

Traveling is about encountering the other and this expedition is a deep foray into the realm of the other. Here in my lovely and comfortable city, I have very few encounters with those who are radically different than I am, most seem mini-clones of myself going about their business much in the same way I go about mine. It is not that we don’t have our share of the others, just take a trip to our prisons and our psychiatric institutions and you will find that they are concentrated with the other. The others have the power to change us, to affect us, and in radical instances they can steal our world and who we are.

By William Blake

Conte Ugolino in the Torre della Fame. The outcome was not positive.
Painting by William Blake.

I am not quite so sure I agree with Sartre’s statement, even though “No Exit” is a tightly written and superbly horrific version of hell. Which hell is worse, being confined to a room for eternity with some of my most grating peers or suffering a fate like Conte Ugolino in canto XXXIII? For me I prefer to think of the others as those live differently, make choices radically different than mine, as those who can present a new and fresh look at reality. That is what makes life interesting, even though I do run the risk of having my world stolen…

5 Responses to “L’enfer, c’est l’autre”

  1. Vinay says:

    Good post!
    The other is not just an agent of discomfort but also an agent of growth. The discomfort of dissonance and alienation is what makes us draw our own boundaries a bit farther. Hell may be other people, but the hellish experience may be essential for our own personal growth.

  2. Neena says:

    Hi Vinay,
    I agree. I can remember a few “hellish” experiences (climbing Aconcagua, walking the Camino Santiago) in our travels. Although we didn’t enjoy these travels as much when we were actually doing them, I learnt a lot about myself on these trips and I don’t regret doing them!

  3. Shreesh says:

    Vinay and Neena,
    You bring up an excellent point – is it even possible to grow without discomfort and dissatisfaction. If everything is going well, if you are content, what is the incentive to change or to improve?

  4. Vinay says:

    Exactly. In fact the more observable phenomenon of physical growth happens through death of cells and tissues that no longer meet requirements. Our metaphoric growth comes from piercing and prodding our cherished ideas and worldviews – the seeds for which come from without.

  5. Pramod Taskar says:

    I do not know weather Sartre defined freedom. If one uses freedom to create hell or heaven, can we define what is hell or heaven?


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