Alterophobia 3 – Afraid of the Other

Chapter III – Being Different and Dealing with Difference

Imagine being different in a world of equals? Imagine to be at home “Here” and not knowing what you can expect “There”?

How would it feel to be the only one with a beard in a world of unbearded people? How would a world which does not know what a “beard” is deal with you? How would you, the only beard individual, deal with it?1

How does one deal with the unknown if that possibility has never been explored before? And what if this new possibility triggers a complex situation that is extremely hard to process?

Peoples’ reactions when facing complex issues have been present in our society these days. Reactions towards minorities, the team we are playing against, anything that are different really.

How do I deal with difference of colour, belief, ideology and sexual orientation? How do I deal with the other who process the world differently than me?

Defense Strategies

Generalizations, putting people into preconceived boxes, fight and flight are some of the automatic strategies to defend ourselves from the challenge of being in contact with difference.

Difference troubles us.

We talked about how hard it is to deal with the complexities of the world. As a coping mechanism, we judge and pre-judge in ways we can create approximations of things we don’t understand by making them more simple or connected to something already part of our current reality.

It’s just the way we work. The problem starts when our approximations do not answer the challenges anymore. When that happens we cannot continue to operate based on old judgements and it is likely that we will be flooded by emotions like confusion, anger, frustration.

Can this emotional flooding be prevented?

Could the reaction of being afraid of the other simply our natural defense mechanism?

If we can’t prevent it, what should we do? What could prepare us for this moment?

Strategies to Live With the Different

To accept that we have a tendency to simplify the world and also that difference can put us in reaction mode can, at one hand, relief us from the burden: we accept we are indeed reductionists without feeling guilty and also that we can sometimes judge the different as a threat automatically.

If this is to be human, we are human beings.

But being human does not justify acting in inhuman ways.

How to respond rather than react to this ‘reaction mode’ we fall in? How to respond to a cultural shock, a threaten belief or the inconceivable?

How can we be wholly responsible for the responses we give?

I don’t believe this is a question for an individual to tackle. We are not able to answer well to the things we are unable to see or when we are in reaction mode.

If we believe that sometimes we might be like this and in those cases we just can’t handle, what can we end up doing when we ourselves are not enough to handle something?

I’d imagine that one can ask for help. You can ask for help for those who walk this life journey with you, family, friends…

This work is not individual work, it is relational work. It is work to process collectively, in group or within a community.

The more diverse the community is and the more this diversity is shown and discussed explicitly, less transparent the world will be and bigger will be our capacity to respond. The more we are capable to respond, the closer we are to integrity as individuals, collectives and as humans.

Recognize the fear of difference is the first step towards, with the support of others, responding with integrity and courage to the complex world we live in .

  1. To see what comes out of this story please check the great The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil.

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