Familiarity and Exclusion, Freedom and Oppression

Posted on March 18, 2013



Familiarity is our blind spot. We can’t “See” the things we are familiar with; like the way we treat people, the beauty of nature, or the expressiveness of the human face. Unless we “silence the familiar and welcome the strange”, we will not begin to “See” (Sam Keen). Our blind spot will remain blind to us. Remember, there is a difference between “seeing” and “Seeing”, just like there is a difference between just hearing and really listening.

Because familiarity is our blind spot, then things like culture and environment, friendships and relationships often become unnoticeable. We take these things for granted, rather than appreciating them. It is sort of like asking the fish, “How’s the water?” And the fish responding, “What water?”

“Behind the façade of our normal lives eternal destiny is shaping our days and our ways. The awakening of the human spirit is a homecoming. Yet, ironically, our sense of familiarity often militates against our homecoming. When we are familiar with something, we lose the energy, edge and excitement of it. Behind the façade of the familiar, strange things await us. This is true of our homes, the place where we live and, indeed, of those whom we live. Friendships and relationships suffer immense numbing through the mechanism of familiarisation. We reduce the wildness and mystery of person and landscape to the external, familiar image. Yet the familiar is merely a façade. Familiarity enables us to tame, control and ultimately forget the mystery. We make our peace with the surface as image and we stay away from the otherness and fecund turbulence of the unknown which it masks. Familiarity is one of the most subtle and pervasive forms of human alienation.” — John O’Donohue: Anam Cara. Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World, p121

In other words, routine tends to tame mystery and silence wonder.

Our blind spots can be those life-giving and meaningful things in our lives that we take for oppression-quotesgranted, but those blind spots can also be the out-of-sight/out-of-mind things we deselect from our consciousness. We marginalize and make invisible things that make us feel uncomfortable or guilty like the poor, homeless, addicts, the undesirables, those that are different, those that are not “normal”.

“Racism is like dust…it is everywhere and you find it in the most unexpected places..” Vernellia Randall


How do we as a society determine that this person or that person deviates from “the norm”?

And how does this inevitable “deviation” from the norm end up having value assigned to it by society?

oppression-quotes2We devalue those that deviate from normal when they are judged to bring negative value to us. This is not a conscious process. It is extremely unconscious for most people. Those that live more consciously may be opening their eyes to see these inequalities. But most of the people in society understand that this is the “way of things”. “We have not caused this.” “This is the way it is.” “AND this is a land of opportunity. Those that really wanted to be successful in life can be successful.” By pinning blame on the person (the deviant), we can efficiently wash our hands of our responsibility by creating the belief in our society all people are not created equally; and hence not treated equally.

What are these unseen forces that are quietly at work?

The structural inequality of our society and its institutions of religion, education, human services, and government can only be deconstructed by the changed hearts of individuals that commit their lives absolutely to the belief and the practice that all people are created equal.

Even the “misfits”?

Even the “outcasts”?

Even the “undesirables”?

Even the “sinners”?

Whom do we welcome into our lives?

Have we ever been accused of being a “friend of sinners”?

As we examine our lifestyles, let’s ask ourselves, “Whom is it that we are trying to stay safe from? distant from? Whom do we exclude?”

This is an issue of integrity; individually, as a community, and as a nation.

”How hard it is for people to live without someone to look down upon — really to look down upon. It is not just that they feel cheated out of someone to hate. It is that they are compelled to look more closely into themselves and what they don’t like in themselves.” (Martin Luther King)

“Our society is not set up to cope very well with people who are weaker or slower. More important, we are not skilled at listening to the wisdom of those whose life patterns are outside of the social norm.” (Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 46)

”For me, society must, by definition, be inclusive of the needs and gifts of all its members; how can we lay claim to making an open and friendly society where human rights are respected and fostered when, by the values we teach and foster, we systematically exclude segments of our population?

“I believe that those we most often exclude from the normal life of society, people with disabilities, have profound lessons to teach us. When we do include them, they add richly to our lives and add immensely to our world.” (Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 45)


Freedom is basic to being human. It is the essence of being human.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (United States Declaration of Independence).

The denial of freedom is a violation of an unalienable right.

The denial of freedom is a violation of equality.

The denial of freedom causes dis-integration; because the essence of being human is to express the very essence of oneself in this world through one’s identity, thereby creating purpose and meaning.

Integrity by definition requires the freedom and the courage to be and to express the “me” I was born to be.

Accepting and appreciating the gifts of others not only creates meaning and purpose mutually, in community, but is also a demonstration equality …of all …to all …for all.

The belief that we all have the inalienable right to freedom to be who we are (identity) and to express who we are (purpose) in this world cannot ever be denied without dire consequences to the human race.

Any time freedom is denied a person; there are underlying systemic ramifications; whether or not it is perceived by those that deny freedom to others or by those for whom freedom has been denied.

Oppression [i]

Denial of freedom is an act of oppression; whether conscious or unconscious.

Denial of self expression is an act of oppression; whether conscious or unconscious.

Denial of self determination is an act of oppression; whether conscious or unconscious.

Denial of difference and its value is an act of oppression whether conscious or unconscious (whether difference of race, creed, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression, age, height, weight, physical or mental ability) because it presumes “I am “better than…”. And you must then be “less than…” in order for me to be superior; thereby
Tunnel of Oppressionassuming inherent inequality.

Oppression is a form of violence.

“Violence is anytime a person violates the identity or integrity of another person” (Parker Palmer, Quaker definition of violence).

Thoughts from Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire


  • Any oppression “constitutes violence.”
  • “Oppressive reality absorbs those within it” (both the oppressor and the oppressed)
  • It “acts to submerge human beings’ consciousness.” (both the oppressor and the oppressed)
  • Oppression is sustained and controlled by changing animate into inanimate (people into objects)
  • This condition “unquestionably corresponds with a tendency to sadism.”


  • “To no longer be prey to its force, one must emerge from it and turn upon it. This can be done only by means of the praxis: reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.”
  • Freire continues to explain that thought and words are rendered meaningless and powerless without action. Reflection allows a person to step back and look at a situation without being trapped within it. Individual and collective dialogue compels a person to act upon the realities that emerge as a person becomes more and more conscious of the underlying realities.

[i] Further quotes from Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire:

“Any situation in which ‘A’ objectively exploits ‘B’ or hinders his self-affirmation as a responsible person is one of oppression. Such a situation in itself constitutes violence, even when sweetened by false generosity, because it interferes with the individual’s ontological and historical vocation to be more fully human. With the establishment of a relationship of oppression, violence has already begun.” (p. 51)

“One of the obstacles to the achievement of liberation is that oppressive reality absorbs those within it and thereby acts to submerge human beings’ consciousness. Functionally, oppression is domesticating. To no longer be prey to its force, one must emerge from it and turn upon it. This can be done only by means of the praxis: reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.” (p. 51)

“And the more the oppressors control the oppressed the more they change them into apparently inanimate ‘things.’ This tendency of the oppressor consciousness to ‘in-animate’ everything and everyone it encounters, in its eagerness to possess, unquestionably corresponds with a tendency to sadism.” (p. 59)

Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion.” (p. 47)

“[T]he more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled. This person is not afraid to meet the people or to enter into a dialogue with them. This person does not consider himself or herself the proprietor of history or of all people, or the liberator of the oppressed; but he or she does commit himself or herself, within history, to fight at their side.”
Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed