Otherness. This is how we define the others to separate them from ourselves, to indicate that we are different. The “others” are the others, a group vague and with no form to which nobody really belongs since each and every one of us thinks that the others are always and only the “others”.
Often the otherness is used to highlight differences and build barriers, which means that we close ourselves to the others. However, we must not forget that we are what remains after everything we are not.
This beautiful illustrated children’s tale addresses precisely that theme: the beauty of the connection with the “other”, the acceptance of the different and the understanding that although we may look different on the surface, deep down we can establish a deep connection that allows us to grow.
A story about the value of differences and the importance of walking alongside the others without trying to change them
“The world’s otherness is the antidote to confusion”, Mary Oliver wrote, stating that sometimes “standing within this otherness can dignify the most wounded heart”. That is also the message of the writer and draftsman of Brooklyn, Daniel Salmieri, in his book “Bear and Wolf”.
On a quiet winter night, Bear entered the forest. While he enjoyed the glittering snowflakes that fell, he noticed something protruding in that gleaming white cloak.
The same thing happened to Wolf, he detected a large brownish spot that was approaching. Through these minimalist illustrations the author encourages us to put ourselves in the place of the other, to understand that each one of us is “an otherness”.
When the two lonely walkers got close enough, they could see that it was a bear and a young wolf.
Bear could see Wolf’s pointed snout, his gray fur, his golden eyes and his wet black nose … Wolf could see Bear’s round head, his soft black fur, his dark brown eyes and his wet, black nose.
However, Bear and Wolf recognize each other, not with the fearful hostility that is a sign of a great inner insecurity in the face of the unknown, but with an authentic and open curiosity.
– Are you lost? – asked Bear.
– No, I’m not lost. Are you? – Walf returned the question.
– No, I’m not lost. I went for a walk to feel the cold on my face and enjoy the tranquility of the forest when it snows. What are you doing?
– I went out to walk to feel the cold under my feet and hear the crunch of snow while walking.
– Do you want to walk with me? – Bear invited him.
– Sure – answered Wolf.
And they headed towards the densest forest, with their wet noses very close, aware that they were “creatures made to be comfortable in the cold”. They savored the splendor of the forest sharing their experiences, each from their perspective. One smelled the wet crust, the other listened to the little sounds …
In this way, the author encourages us to walk side by side, without trying to change the other, simply accepting the differences, turning them into motives of mutual rejoicing, instead of separating walls.
Finally they arrive at a large clearing, a vaguely familiar place that in summer is a blue lake.
Then comes the time to separate and return to their lives, which will develop in parallel in that shared world.
Bear must return to his cave and hibernate with his family, and Wolf must return to his herd to continue chasing the reindeer.
The seasons change, winter gives way to spring, and in the new forest the flowers grow and the birds sing. Bear and Wolf meet again.
Now they are different. They have grown, but they will walk side by side in that world they share.
This ode to the acceptance of what is different is perfect to teach children that we can live together and grow together, looking for what unites us, instead of focusing on what separates us.
Differences make us unique and valuable. When everyone contributes with their difference, the world of the other grows, expands a little. When we feel too comfortable, it means that we have locked ourselves in the same place, where there is no room for growth.
According to the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, true growth occurs in interactions with different people, not in comfort zones where we relate to those who are equal to us. The rejection of the other, of the different, comes from our fear to grow, to be forced to look with different eyes, open our perspective and, ultimately, accept that we are not masters of the absolute truth. Nobody is!
It is a powerful message that perhaps adults should also relearn.