Jane Hutcheon


17 Jan

The Solace of Being an Outsider Personal Life

Jane Hutcheon

Looking back over the year after recording fifty or so interviews for One Plus One, I noticed a frequent discussion I had with guests was the matter of being an outsider. 

Conservative columnist Andrew Bolt, for example, said this about his arrival in Australia as the son of Dutch migrants.

"Having that Dutch background … made me embrace the outsider status...I find I can take a step back and look on and not feel that I have to accept everything." he said.

In the family-friendly film Paddington (released December 2014) the small bear remarks at the movie's happy conclusion that his desire to belong came with the realisation that London was full of outsiders, including, though this was more implied than verbalised, members of his adopting, quirky family the Brown's. 

On a more sombre note in The Battle to Belong New York Times columnist Roger Cohen reveals his family’s story of immigration and assimilation and his mother’s battle with suicide and depression.

"The one story I had to tell was hers — and through hers that of a far-flung Jewish family, tied by the pain of forgetting, the strain of assimilation, the curse of mental illness and the ever-renewed consolation of love," Cohen wrote.

Being an outsider is something many of us contemplate.  Do we fit it?  Is it important to belong? What does it mean to be part of an in crowd?

There have been times when I've been part of an in crowd.  

My husband Michael and I met as cameraman and correspondent during Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's funeral in Ramallah in 2003. We were part of a huge media contingent covering a key moment in Middle East history.  We were part of the International Media and I felt comfortable in the nest; living in Jerusalem and Jordan - travelling to the West Bank and Gaza on a weekly basis - covering the Middle East region for two years.  

While Arafat lay mysteriously ill in a French hospital, the international media gathered.  Around us, makeshift studios and camera points popped up as they do whenever big news breaks in a particular area, transforming it into a miniature broadcast suburb overnight.  All of the international networks set up their own mini bureaux and had plenty of support staff.  With our driver and translator, ABC Australia as we are known in most places, haggled with a local family to rent rooms in a house behind the wall of Arafat’s compound, the Muqata. 

So, in the middle of this vast story, we were insiders and yet glancing sideways, seeing what the big guns of the American networks, the BBC and CNN were operating with were we truly insiders?  Did being an insider serve a useful purpose?

Reflecting on the individuals I’ve interviewed, being an outsider is about discomfort initially. Then a breeze of acceptance followed by resilience rolls in.  It feels comforting to have a sense of being apart from the rest. 

Outside the circle. A little uncomfortable.  There is solace in being an outsider.  (Photo credit: Top - Paddington the Movie.  The photo below is mine)

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