Xenophobia. I heard this term several years ago during diversity training.
Wikipedia defines Xenophobia as the irrational or unreasoned fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange. It can be exhibited in the form of an “uncritical exaltation of another culture” in which a culture is ascribed “an unreal, stereotyped and exotic quality”.
After time in the class and reflection, xenophobia is just another form of discrimination or racism, conscious or unconscious.
In 2001 my country was attacked by terrorists, not once but three times in one day. Next to the wars I saw fought abroad via television and CNN in the 1990s, it was the most horrific act by any human I’ve ever experienced. 911 taught us about the vulnerabilities of humanity. It exposed the weaknesses in security, and it brought the nation and really the world, to its knees. I also think it created a new level of global xenophobia.
But my nature is to find the “good” in everything…
And in my attempt to do so, 911 opened to my eyes to the world.
While I was upset for the many months that followed this senseless act, I overcame that bewilderment by exploring the “why and how” it could have happened. It made me curious about the world outside of what I always knew: the United States of America. A few years later I was presented with the opportunity to lead a multi-national team of professionals in six geographies. Never in the history of my career or life had I stepped onto foreign soil, but the moment to travel the world and see something so different than my own experience was humbling. And while I was excited with these opportunities, I was petrified as I travelled to new places. I learned so much about others and realized how little I knew about life outside of the USA. It was a huge wake up call to the opportunity the world presents if you choose to take it.
How else will we learn unless we explore “difference”?
Two things. We still hate what we don’t understand. And, it doesn’t matter where you are from and where you go to, hate and fear exist everywhere. Slavery, genocide, religious persecution, and war… it’s been with us. We’ve been fighting about difference since the beginning of mankind within our own cultures and outside of our nationalities. We always fear what we don’t know. It’s that fear that can turn worse and grow into hatred and drive humans to say and do inhumane things. That’s where we have the chance to create change.
Our job isn’t to grow fear. It’s to grow out of it.
Mark Twain says it right. Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did so throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
What are you exploring, dreaming about and discovering today to drive greater awareness and understanding in yourself and in others?