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?