Are We Afraid of What We Don't Understand?

Sue Daugherty
Mar 23, 2010

What I'm about to share is a personal observation. It isn't based on any type of social research (If it is, I haven't read about it.) It's just personal experience. These experiences include observations I've made at my various places work, in my professional field and in my personal life. In all three realms I found one constant. People don't like what they don't understand. In fact, we are afraid of it.

Anger/rejection/resistance and flat-out mistreatment of other people are common displays negative behavior. When there is no other motivating cause (i.e., being attacked) for anger/rejection/resisance/mistreatment, I believe the root cause is really fear of what people don't understand. Here's how I arrived at this hypothesis.

In organizational behavior (your place of work) you've probably seen for yourself when a new computer program is put into place, it's rarely celebrated. In fact, it's often resisted. At the very least it's criticized. Before people have had time to get comfortable with the new software, people will express feelings dread (fear of not knowing what to do) and dislike (more fear of not being able to work the computer, not be able to get their work done, and ultimately fear of being disciplined for not fulfilling their work responsibilities).The employees see the problem as the new computer software, when in reality the problem is they are afraid of what they don't understand.

In my profession (geriatrics), I have seen teens hold very negative beliefs about older people. Ninety-nine percent of those teenagers would admit that they spend very little time being socially engaged with people age 60 and older. Despite that truth, they are convinced that all of the negative stereotypes they hold about senior citizens are facts. Most would cite all sorts of reasons (the following are based on actual opinion surveys taken by teens about older people): Older people are slow, grouchy, wrinkled and they're out of touch. Quite simply -- they just don't like older people.

Then after a week's worth of personal interaction (called an intergenerational practicum) - five hours of the teen being socially engaged with older people to understand what it's like to be older - the teens' opinions change. That belief of, "I don't like older people," changes to, "They are so cool," or "They are so much fun," and "They are so wise." Once teenagers had an improved understanding, their fears of grouchy, out-of-touch people went away.

Then, I reflected on my own personal beliefs. Beliefs that I hold about people that I don't even know. People I have no understanding of, only of what the media portrays. Let me give you an example. I have a strong aversion (and I struggle with it daily) to people with multiple tattoos and body piercings. Not because I know them. I don't know that at all. But my psyche tells me these are people to stay away from. But when I really think about why I avoid getting to know people with lots of tattoos and body piercings, it's because it makes ME uncomfortable -- I'm afraid.

I suspect to some degree or another, we are all afraid of what we don't understand. But let's take a look at the flip side: Imagine what our community would be like if instead of averting what we don't know, we made a conscious effort to engage those people and those things that we don't understand. I think it would make us better people and it would produce a better society.

What do you think?

Comments

Anonymous

Ms. Daugherty,

IMO you are performing a great societal service by conducting these ‘intergenerational practicums.’

When in the course of time, working adults have to fork over the overwhelming majority of their paychecks in order to fund the government guaranteed health and welfare entitlements of the millions of boomer seniors, their ‘understanding’ will be extremely necessary.

Several years ago I read Dychtwald’s ‘Age Wave’ and he certainly put ‘fear’ into me.

Gulliver

Sue - I think what you described applies to homophobia. If people only realized that they already have normal relationships with many people who happen to be gay (but don't know that person is gay), it would be obvious there is nothing to be afraid of. But, it's easier to hate and avoid... so that's what they do. It also makes the "hater" "avoider/rejector" feel powerful, so there is an incentive to dislike people who are not like them.

As for your phobia of people with tatto's and body piercings, You need work on that. It's just another form of baseless discrimination, like homophobia.

Anonymous

The Amushunkwa Indians believe the warrior who cries the tears of the crocodile will ride to the great battle in the sky on a dung stool made from cactus. “ IMO”

Anonymous

We all want the world to change, only we don't want to change.

It's like losing weight; many people want to be slimmer, they just don't want to go through the often long process of diet and exercise. Where's that magic pill?

Learning self-acceptance can be difficult, but long term it's far more satisfying.

There ain't nothing wrong with personal selfishness. We’re all selfish in varying degrees. We’re all selfish for that next breath of air.

Being self-serving can often protect one from people in positions of power who attempt to use guilt or a call to altruism as a way for them to control others for their own selfish ends - think politicians or religious leaders.

I'm reminded of Eric Berne's Transactional Analysis of several years ago. The once popular book by Thomas A Harris was entitled ‘I'm OK, You're OK.’

I figure that if YOU can't accept ME for who I am, that's YOUR problem. I'm OK with me.

Why should I work on being more accepting of you, if you aren’t working on being more accepting of me? Or visa versa.

Also, Dr. Wayne Dyer once asked a question that I thought was very poinient. He asked that if you changed yourself so completely that the people that don’t’ like you now accepted you, will the people that currently like you still accept you? What have you really accomplished? Have you not merely traded one set of ‘friends’ for another?

New information doesn’t always bring better understanding of something or someone one distrusts, sometimes it’s confirmatory.

I don't feel a deep seeded need to hang out at biker bars in order to work on becoming more accepting of roadhouse denizens.

Americans tend to have a societal illness of the need for self-improvement. Europeans think we’re crazy. As I wrote before, self-acceptance including innocent prejudices is IMO a far more healthy mental state to work toward.

Gulliver

TO JEFF: Good stuff!! Thanks for your comments! RE: your statement of "I don't feel a need to hang out at biker bars to work on becoming more accpeting of the roadhouse denizens"... May I challenge you and ask you this... Is your lack of desire to hang out at the biker bar, because it would make you feel uncomfortable? (It sure would make me feel uncomfortable.) No one has a need to feel uncomfortable.

However, if we did feel the need to understand people who are different from ourselves, it would cause us to put ourselves is social settings that would give us a real basis for why we reject/resist/dislike people.

Easier said than done, I know. I'm still tryng to find the courage to break down my own baselss defenses against "ways of being" that is different from my own. Thanks again for your thoughtful insight. I enjoyed reading it. -- Sue

Anonymous

Is it time for Kumbaya yet?

Anonymous

Greetings everyone, sorry I have been gone so long but I have been on knife sharpeners convention tours, just returning from the Ottumwa, Iowa knife show over the weekend. But anyway I return to find the normally active blog in hideious boredom and a mundane state. What once was at the least a semi interesting comment forum has become lamer than Harvest Happenings at Osborn Park. The only thing going on in here is ooooo Sue oooooo Jeff. This isnt a high school gigly goo date site it is a forum of relevant discusion. The only thing ever interesting on here is Dale and his vision quest qoutes. Now that I have got that out of the way I will now give my two sense on the topic at hand. Sue dont feel bad, my opinion is if these tatooed people want to look like freaks thats how they should be treated. The same way with these ammoral homosexuals, sorry Gulliver but there is no way that that sick lifestyle is in any way tolerable. I leave my comments on this last note to Jeff Crapbill, Jeff this is not a dating service so you can coerce Sue into a date, get a life and besides I am sure Sue is way out of your league anyway. Thats what I'm are has to say about that.

Anonymous

The Amushunkwa Indians say the brave who returns from the lonely walk will usually find the fertile ground fallow from neglect and infested with wastrel parasites… IMO

Anonymous

Here's a new concept, OTHER PEOPLE!

I am a woman in my early 30's and find that other men and women in my world are severely sick. It's funny, I never read these BLOGS anymore, nor do I post, but felt compelled to speak.

It seems there's an enormous lack of patience, acceptance, compassion, and selflessness amongst a bunch of other adjectives I could elaborate, but wait...there's more.

Times are tough, and only getting tougher, why is it so hard to see passed the end of our noses and find compassion and understanding?

Aren't we all equal? I feel 2009 is going to impact us all and we will all understand the pauper's way of living, and realize "huh, they're not pathetic bums after all". Welcome to being poor! I'm excited about that, because every person to our left or right will be suffering and we will soon become humbled into equality. Maybe even begin to help one another and show love and a sense of community in the natural way without seeking reward.

Poor ain't so bad, it's actually quite easy and fun. Life without TV, boy there's a savings of about $500 a year, AMAZING!!! More time to hang out with the little ones, YAY!
Want to go bowling? forget the 300, let's go to Star Lanes at 9pm and spend $18 vs. $100 at the 300. And whoever said used clothing was ghetto? We use our clothing everyday. Fill a bag of clothes at Savers for $20. You won't be naked for a week! Plus you get to choose your own style, not the season or current trend. And with no TV, it won't matter what's in style anymore. YAY!

But still, where's the love? Times like these, we are all broke, does that mean we need to be jerks too? What's the harm in choosing to be a sweetheart for real? We all want to get to the front of the line first, what makes you so special? Nothing at all. Nothing at all. Who says you're special anyway? You?

What would make these days easier for YOU would be to change your attitude and decide right now. Be kind? Be an a**? What would your mother want? What would your child want? What would you want the world to be to you?

Be nice, try kindness, have a little understanding and put yourself aside, cause we're all skinbags full of goo just like the Princes and the Princesses, the most effective ones just wear a crown around their heart.

Who's up for bowling?

Anonymous

Well I am going to have to decline Kiss my Tatooed A, there is no way I would ever kiss any part of you. Who knows where your freak unkempt self has been, not to mention what low budget fly by night tatoo parlor around here you have been too. I don't need hep c from a dirty needle or dirty drug using tatoo artist, so I will pass. You need money well get a job, oh wait I am sorry you can't get hired because you have disgraced your body and look more hideous than a velvet Elvis painting. Don't blame your economic woes on the decent clean hardworking man, you choose to look like a freak deal with it. Oh and by the way Im sure Barnum and Baileys is hiring.

Anonymous

Hey art vando-lays potato head. Quit trying to kiss up to me. You seem like a fruit to me. All that hater talk is typical of a “closet queen”. The more you talk the hate the more you are really talking about yourself. But what the hey, it’s the holidays, so have a nice Thanksgiving, just don’t choke, I bet you like the dark meat, I don’t see you as a breast man!

BLACKJACK

if idothe timecab do thecrime poto hed

Anonymous

What I think is that the more educated one is, the more accepting they are of others that are different. Judging a book by its cover and assuming a person is a certain way because of the way he looks or what his skin color is, is a sure way to promote hate and negativity. People need to learn to be less judgmental and not impose their hypocritical views on others. Think for yourself and forget what your parents taught you, especially if it was negative. Investigate, learn, acquire unusual knowledge and remember that if everyone were exactly alike, it would be a really boring planet.

Anonymous

Sue, what happened to your latest blog about ways to save money? Why was it taken down? I haven't seen it the last couple of days.

Gulliver

TO MISSING BLOG. I don't know what happened. I'm looking into it. -- Sue

Anonymous

Obviously the Register doesn’t want anything posted that is thoughtful, useful or insightful posted…

Anonymous

Well R.H.S. thats obvious, if you read Nick White's blogs.