We are living through a time when people in many countries through the world seem to be polarising against each other. Families fleeing, with nothing, from war torn Syria are having to endure further hardship by having no welcoming place to flee to. Throughout many countries in the world the dominant view seems to be that we should look after our own, and that aliens with different ways, different views and different looks are not welcome. Xenophobia is on the increase, it seems.
Yet at our core we are all human. For the most part, we are basically kind and loving, and none of us are born with an innate prejudice against those with a different colour, background or religion. So, as life takes its course, why do we start to hate foreigners? Here are a few reasons.
Evolution. - As humans, we lived first in small groups or tribes. Loyalty to the group was crucial for survival and there were many dangers and enemies outside of these small groups. In other words, the conditions in which much of our human development occurred were highly conducive to a mindset of hating 'outsiders' and favouring our own small group.
Threat. - We are hardwired to pay attention to what threatens us, and to search for ways of removing or reducing this. This focus has helped humankind to survive over the years. These days we are still threatened by people who are different to us, even though circumstances have changed and the dangers we face today are different to those of our forbears.
Separation. - At times of difficulty and stress we tend to become self-centred and protective of ourselves. This can easily lead us to set ourselves up against others, especially those we see as different.
Projection. - Often the characteristics we hate the most in other people are those that we cannot acknowledge in ourselves. As humans we all share the same basic instincts. Some of these instincts are kind and loving, but others can be less savoury and more difficult to accept. We can end up attributing many of our unacknowledged dark emotions to groups of people we see as different to ourselves.
Manipulation. - There are many forces in our world which may manipulate our emotions. Large corporations for example have an interest in driving our continued consumption of goods for profit which is well served by encouraging us to feel that we don't have enough. Policy makers whose policies may result in austerity and hardship can divert anger from themselves by making scapegoats of various groups of outsiders who we can blame for our collective misfortune. Hate is an easy emotion to arouse and a good newspaper seller. Much of our fear and mistrust, not only of foreigners but also of other groups of people such as benefit claimants, the sick and needy or those of differing cultures is fanned by manipulation of some sort by powerful groups of people. Noam Chomsky's words have never rung truer than in our present day society. 'As long as the general population is passive, apathetic, diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable, then the powerful can do as they please, and those who survive will be left to contemplate the outcome'.
While much of our responses to people who we see as 'not belonging' to our group come from biologically hard-wired tendencies, it is important that we try to understand and work with this aspect of our nature. These days threats are different. We are unlikely to be physically attacked by a rival group without provocation. However, if we give in to our destructive impulses we may start to treat certain groups of people with suspicion or worse behave in an attacking way towards them. This could well cause them to react against us and our treatment of them, thus starting a cycle of fear and hatred that could have far reaching consequences. We need to do whatever we can to remind ourselves that we are all human and that it is best to try not to set ourselves up against each other. After all, nearly every human on the planet ultimately wants a safe, fair and peaceful world for ourselves and our children to grow up in.