I believe that this is especially important when one considers issues of The Other - that is, the being that is different than I. We as humans have a tendency to see Otherness as threatening, even evil. Discussions about reconciliation and tolerance are often difficult, charged with stereotypical baggage and imperfect experience.
In spec fic, we have an opportunity to talk about what it means to be Other while removing the baggage. We write of alien races and magical beings, things so far removed from the here and now that the reader has difficulty attach a label or stereotype. The Other is expected, even embraced (after all, what would a space opera be without an alien encounter?). As readers, we put ourselves into the position of outsider, insider, companion and enemy, all without batting an eye. Because it's a story. And a weird one at that.
Story allows us to plumb the depths of who we are as humans. Speculative fiction, by it's very nature, forces us to think about how we relate to one another. As writers, we do a great disservice if we do not consider how our characters relate to one another and how The Other is portrayed.
How do you use The Other in your fiction? Do you allow your readers an insider's perspective of a foreign way? Do you allow them to be on the outside looking in? What does your treatment of The Other in your fiction say about your relationships and beliefs in the Real World?