Impulse to Attack the Unknown
I recall an incident from many years ago where a couple of misguided radio personalities in my city decided it would be a good idea to disrupt a Muslim prayer service. Bad idea all around.
The good thing was that the people of Denver condemned this forcefully. But the question remains: Where does this hate and intolerance come from in the first place? Why do people do intolerant things?
My opinion: They fear what they don’t understand and have a tendency to attack it. I know I do.
Here’s an example.
Something I understand: spiders in my house. We sort of cohabitate. If they get too large, I just put them outside. Factually, if they don’t walk on me (which really does give me the creeps) I find them quite useful. They eat the little flying bugs that live in my plants which keeps these bugs out of my coffee. So, when I see a spider I just note it and carry on with whatever else I am doing.
I wanted to kill it, even before I knew anything about it—and this thing was only about an inch long. I think that we all have a little bit of this instinct: to fear what we don’t understand.
Something I didn’t understand: One day I was on my couch watching television, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a creature on my carpet that scared the living bejesus out of me. It was long, it had way too many legs and it moved in a very weird way. Much to my surprise, I actually found myself bounding up and standing on the couch to get as far away from it as possible. I wanted to kill it, even before I knew anything about it— and this thing was only about an inch long.
I think that we all have a little bit of this instinct: to fear what we don’t understand. This can lead to assumptions that might not be true. If the thing we fear is an entire class of persons, that’s very different from being afraid of a centipede. To fear or dislike another person just because they dress in a different way, speak a different language or worship in a different manner is illogical. It can lead to discrimination.
The right thing to do is to realize that our initial impulse may be just a primal reaction that has no place in this civilized era. We are no longer those primal beings. We should consciously kick in our power of reasoning-after all, this is what distinguishes us from the animal kingdom (at least that’s what my elementary school teachers said). Actually find out more about the person. Are they really so different? Go ahead, ask him or her questions. Visit his or her church or mosque and see if they preach love or hate there. Find out why they dress differently.
When the radio folks pulled their stunt many years ago, the Imam invited the community in to find out more about what Muslims believed. Many people came to see what it was all about, and any “fears” they may have had were resolved. They found the people of this mosque to be very much like themselves. Personally I found the Imam to be one of the kindest and humblest people I had ever met. His tolerance of my religion, Scientology, was awesome. That respect was contagious, and I, of course, was inspired to return it.
When all is said and done, most of us are more alike than we think. Sure, there are always those who twist anything good into something bad. But that doesn’t make the original bad. Be adventurous. Be a 21st-century person. Find out about different religions. Find out about different cultures. They are what make the fabric of the world colorful. And I think you’ll find that your dislike of others lessens because you really do understand them.
Photo by: Charly Bratt / arindambanerjee / Saikat Paul / Shutterstock.com