We have finally reached the last three letters of the alphabet, X, Y, and Z. there are probably less words beginning with the letter X then any other letter in the alphabet. However, the word, which seemed to grasp my attention this week, was xenophobia: According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, xenophobia is “the fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.”
A colleague of mine once talked about how fear is really an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. Our fear and hatred of strangers or anything strange or foreign may appear real, however, it is based on ideas that we have learned in our life and internalized along our journey. Alan Johnson, in his book Power, Privilege and Difference, has argued that it is not what we know that we fear, but what we think we know. You can take any group of strangers or foreigners or anything one defines as strange and foreign and reflect on what we think we know. When we move beyond what we think we know about the object or group of people, then we begin to journey to a place where we can move through our fears. The feeling of fear is real, however, when we call upon our inner jaguar and stalk out the roots of that fear, we begin to see the object or group with a greater clarity. The reality is that we are all strangers or foreigners to someone else.
So what makes something strange or foreign. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines strange in ways that evoke unfamiliarity or a sense of being extraordinary. According to them, strange can mean both “not before known, heard, or seen” and “exciting wonder or awe.” Foreign is defined as anything or anyone “situated outside one's own country.” So strange and foreign are not necessarily in and of themselves something to fear or hate, but that which calls us to experience someone or something we have not experienced before in our lives. How, we look at that opportunity is about us. Do we open ourselves up to move outside our boundaries and experience that which is different from us and which might enable us to experience wonder and awe in our life or do we choose to fear that which we do not understand simply because it calls us to counter the unknown.
The reality is that we face the unknown everyday in our lives. Every time we go to a new restaurant or try a new dish, we are encountering the strange. Every time, we try the cuisine of a different culture, we are encountering the strange and the foreign. Every time, we start a new job we are encountering the strange. Everyday is filled with opportunities to experience that which is strange or foreign in our lives. Most people seem to embrace the opportunities to experience these opportunities in life as either just a part of everyday living or with a sense of wonder and awe.
On the one hand, xenophobia can appear to what it is defined as, “the fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.” On the other hand, xenophobia also suggests we are afraid of life and of living. We are afraid of the strangeness and foreignness not only in others, but within ourselves. As we learn to accept and love the strange and foreign within us, then we are better able to release our fear and hatred of the strange and foreign in our lives.