As far as we’ve come as nation, many Americans express fear, hatred, intolerance, or confusion towards other cultures. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, when someone has a fear or hatred of strangers or foreigners, he or she suffers from xenophobia. Sadly, xenophobia can lead to violence and discrimination.
America has been a “melting pot” since its inception, so for many Americans it may be surprising that such negative feelings towards other cultures can exist. Xenophobia can affect your neighbors, your family members, your friends, trusted officials in your community, and even you. Rather than fueling the harmful negativity, here are some benefits to learning about other cultures:
When someone suffers from xenophobia, he or she likely feels hatred or fear towards strangers or foreigners because he or she is simply lacking accurate information about another culture. If more people took the chance to learn about different cultures, xenophobia could be less prevalent. For example, your neighbor may fear the Muslim family that just moved into the neighborhood. When you ask her why she’s so fearful and hateful, all of her feelings stem from what she perceives from the media. If your neighbor took the time to get to know the new family, she would most likely see that she shares some commonalities such as a love for gardening, cats, and reality television. One of the major problems of xenophobia is that many people are too “set” in their feelings that they aren’t willing to branch out and learn about other cultures.
Enhance Your Lifestyle
Think about some of your favorite cuisine. Without cultural influence, your daily food options would be pretty boring. Love the artistry of sushi or the rich, comforting flavors of Indian food? You can thank other cultures for the variety in your life. Not only can other cultures make for a more colorful dining experience, but learning about other cultures is interesting and can broaden your views on everything from food to clothing to religion and politics.
Learn How to Interact with Other Cultures
Some people, who are xenophobic, base their negative feelings off of how they perceive the actions of strangers. For instance, some Asian cultures do not use direct eye contact and many Americans may view that as a sign of disrespect, where in fact it is a way of showing respect. Cultural differences can cause a lot of misunderstandings and may lead to irrational feelings of hate and fear. You may gain a better understanding of nonverbal communication by simply taking the time to learn about another culture. However, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t assume that everyone of a certain culture is the same (as Americans are not all the same).
See the World Through Another Person’s Eyes
By taking the time to learn about someone’s cultural background, you may have a better understand of their life. For example, many people assume that refugees and immigrants come to the U.S. for “free” things, but in reality many of them are escaping a war torn country. Learning about another culture can open your mind, your heart, allow you to express empathy, and reevaluate your own life and culture.