Fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign
Last week the world was shocked by a brutal attack against the people of Paris.
A day before that, Beirut was attacked with similarly savage tactics in the form of suicide bombings.
In October a man entered a community college in Roseburg, Oregon and killed nine people before committing suicide.
A couple of months ago, our nation mourned the murder of a congregation in a church in South Carolina.
This year has been marked by highly publicized riots and deaths in Missouri, Illinois, Texas, and dozens of other sites around the US.
Approximately 7 months ago, nearly 150 university students in Kenya were massacred while attending class.
In 2013 two brothers bombed the Boston Marathon, killing 3 and wounding hundreds.
In 2011 a man carried out two horrendous attacks in Norway, killing dozens and wounding hundreds of others.
The list continues, on and on and on. Terrorist attacks, hate crimes, murders, etc. None of these crimes were directly related, though a certain group has claimed responsibility for many of them.
Everything on this list is horrible, everything on this list is tragic, and everything on this list was caused by fear.
Experts, media, talking heads, writers, Twitter and Facebook users all give varying opinions about why these things happen. Perhaps it’s mental illness, racism, religious extremism, a lack of gun control, or some other motive. I’m not saying that those reasons aren’t largely responsible, but perhaps they aren’t the only explanations as to why these tragedies happen.
Fear is more than just the reason that we jump when we see a spider or an excuse for not riding roller coasters. Fear is a basic human emotion, it is an aspect of our existence that can’t be overcome or eradicated. Fear is what keeps us alive. By facing our fears, we can be pushed to greater heights, and fear is what inspires us to make changes in our own lives as well as the world around us.
Despite all of that, fear is something that we shun on a consistent basis. We hide our fears and deny that we have any at all. And when we do that they fester, they become something else, something dark and twisted. When they’re hidden and denied, our fears stop inspiring us to greater heights and instead they drive us into senselessness and other, more destructive emotions.
One fear in particular, when it is denied and left to fester, spawns the thoughts and the emotions that are ultimately leading to the tragedies listed above. That fear is xenophobia, a fear of all things strange or foreign.
When I say, “foreign”, I don’t want you to think of only people from other countries. Instead, think of anyone that you view as “different”. Anyone that you think of as “other” would fall into this category. Maybe they follow a different religion, they’re from a different generation, they love someone different, or they simply look different… no matter what the difference is you shouldn’t be afraid of it.
Our fears can be great tools when we acknowledge them and face them. They exist for a reason. But when we bury them, or we accept them as hard facts despite their irrationality, they become harmful.
Xenophobia in particular becomes more than a fear, it grows into hatred. A hatred of anyone different than yourself. A hatred that cuts you off from parts of humanity just like a tourniquet left on an otherwise healthy body.
This ends up becoming a fear that affects more than just one person. Those who let it control them alienate those around them. In times of desperation, people will seek help from anywhere they can, but when they are rejected by the xenophobic, their own fears grow. They grow into hate. Xenophobia creates copies of itself in the very people that are the subject of the original fear, like a virus.
It’s a vicious cycle that can only be broken by someone facing their fear and welcoming those that scare them into their lives. We can only truly combat these acts of fear and hatred by showing compassion and attempting to bridge the gap between ourselves and those people that we view as different.
Every day I hear and see people that are adamant about turning away those in need of help. Sometimes it’s the poor in their own community, sometimes immigrants from Mexico or other countries, and most recently it’s in regards to the Syrian refugees, fleeing the terror of their war-torn homeland.
When I hear and see people rail against the idea of opening our homes and our lives to these people, all I can think of is the very first lesson in ethics that I ever learned… “Treat others as you want to be treated”.
At what point in our lives did we allow ourselves to forget this message?
When did we reach the point where we let our fears overshadow the lessons we were taught as children?
How could we have allowed our fear of others to erase the most basic level of morality from our hearts?
Terrorism, by definition, thrives on fear; primarily our fear of each other. Its goal is to divide us; because apart, we are weak. By refusing to unite all people against one common enemy, we are weakening ourselves, and we are doing the terrorist’s jobs for them.
It doesn’t matter what race, gender, class, age, religion, sexuality, political party, or nationality a person associates themselves with, their most defining characteristic is that they are human. Before all else, that person next to you is just as human as the person shown on the news, fleeing from tragedy or sleeping on the street.
This of course means that the terrorists are human as well. They are people (of all different races and religions, just because ISIS is the most prominent one now, doesn’t mean that Dylann Roof isn’t a terrorist), people that have allowed their fears to take over their minds to such an extent that they resort to causing these inhumane acts. They sacrifice their humanity in an effort to destroy everyone’s.
They want to spread that fear and that terror to everyone, because they truly believe that the hatred and destruction they are spreading is the best solution for their own fears.
Countless times throughout human history, they have been proven wrong.
Time and time again, it is shown that fear and hatred are NOT what can save us from ourselves or from the darkest parts of our existence. Rather, a concerted effort to understand, accept, and even help one another, no matter our differences, has upheld a belief that too few among us still share… Love is better than hate.
The perpetrators of the atrocities across the globe that wish to divide us, those people that want to turn us against each other and sew fear in to the very fabric of our existence… they can be defeated. Not with more fear, or divisive hatred, not by closing our doors, our borders, our hearts, or our minds; but with love and understanding.
I wish it were possible to show every person on earth this fact, and to make even the terrorists see the error of their ways, but I don’t believe that potential exists. Some people are too far gone, and yes, military and police action will be necessary. We cannot save every life, or prevent every tragedy. To believe otherwise is unfortunately naive.
Though it will be necessary to take action and to go to war against those that would see us tear each other apart, I truly believe that it is even more necessary to reach across whatever borders we perceive, either real or imaginary, and to offer help to those that need it.
If we don’t, if we shun our duty to humanity, then we leave only a legacy of vacancy to our future generations. We will be those that turned our backs on the world when it needed us most.
I will not give in to the fears that those trying to divide us are forcing upon the world.
I will not allow hate to dictate my actions.
For those that I don’t yet understand, I will do my best to change that.
For those that I disagree with, I will not let that stop me from offering a hand up when needed.
It has taken me years to fully realize this final lesson, but I know now that I am not alone, and in fact, none of us are. We are in this life together, and though none of us may make it out alive, that is no reason not to help each other strive to be the absolute best that humanity has to offer.
There is only one way in which I will allow my fears to dictate my life… By facing them, I learn the direction that I must go in order to become the person that I want to be.
“It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.” – Terry Pratchett/Neil Gaiman – Good Omens
If you want to keep thinking on this topic, I suggest watching this…
And finally, to steal a bit from my favorite fantasy football analyst at Footballguys…
“I hope you make the most of whatever you're doing in your life. Love your neighbor and stick together.
Peace and Grace to you.”