Xenophobia. Or, fear of the unknown. What’s interesting is before writing this, I honest to God did not know that Xenophobia was the correct terminology for fear of the unknown. What’s even more interesting is that while reading the definition, it completely solidified every thought and opinion I was forming about this idea. The definition reads:
“Xenophobia is derived from the Greek word 'Xenos' meaning “foreigner or stranger” and Phobos which means 'morbid fear'. Xenophobia is the irrational sensation of fear experienced about a person or a group of persons as well as situations that are perceived as strange or foreign.”
But my question is, why are we afraid of the things, of the people, of the situations we don’t know, and/or are foreign to us? Why choose words like morbid and irrational to express feelings towards the unknown? Why is there this social construct that those things we do not know should bring forth feelings of negativity, fear, and discrimination? And why have we let it be that way for so long? Okay, so I guess I have more than just one question; however, I’m not sure why more people aren’t asking them?
I do not believe that the idea of fearing what is foreign to us is innate. I don’t think we see people, or things, or situations that we’re not familiar with and say, “because you’re different from me, or because this is not what I usually experience, I am scared of you.” I do think that it’s something we all experience. I do think, more often than not, that those are the very thoughts that go through people’s minds when they’re faced with the unknown. But I think it’s because we’re taught to fear the unknown, not because we inherently do.
Think about everything you’ve ever feared. Strangers? The dark? Drugs? Needles? Now think about why you fear those things. It’s because growing up, your parents told you not to talk to strangers. It’s because the monsters in our bedtime stories came alive in the dark. It’s because you sat through a D.A.R.E. program in middle school and maybe went home and watched scared straight which showed you what would happen if you got into drugs. It’s because needles hurt. Okay actually, that one might be an innate fear. Needles are scary and that is the #truth, not socially constructed. But in all seriousness, all of our fears, in one way or another, are socially constructed. And if that’s true, then how many of those things, people, situations that you were told to fear do you, as an individual, actually fear?
We are a culture, and maybe even species, that craves comfort. And the easiest way to feel comfortable is to relate to one another. When we don’t relate, when we feel foreign, we start to feel uncomfortable. Which I think is a normal, human response. However, instead of taking that discomfort and turning it into negativity and fear, why don’t we turn it into curiosity and positivity? Why don’t we say hey, you feel very foreign to me, but I want to learn from you. I want to try and understand what you’re about because maybe, I can relate to you once I dig deeper. And if I don’t that’s cool, too! I appreciate our differences! I think that discrimination against people who are gay, of color, ethnic, or anything else is overall, a discrimination against differences. And our “fear” of differences. We feel the need to identify, to label, to group people into categories based on their identifications and labels, because we fear being different. But if it’s not already obvious, that can be extremely detrimental. Not everyone fits perfectly into one mold, not everything in life is black and white, and some things just don’t need to be understood by everyone. But that’s okay. The unknown, and things that are foreign to us, aren’t things that we should fear. We should learn to face experiences we’re unfamiliar with, we should learn to embrace the gray areas, with positivity and excitement, and we should find comfort in the unknown. We don’t have to continue to let our social constructs and constant societal rules/beliefs determine the way we think or live. And if this resonated with you in anyway, I challenge you to go into a new experience, reach out to someone who feels different than you, and do things you’re unsure of without fear or negativity. I bet you’ll find that what you didn’t know, wasn’t all that scary.