Why do we fear ‘difference’?

Why do we fear ‘difference’?

What a garden fence can teach us about each other

In 2017 I was following a blog written by a couple of friends of mine as they made their way around the world.

They were in Japan at the time, and they posted a photo of the shrine of Itsukushima.

Itsukushima is a Shinto shrine dating from the eighth century, and it rises majestically out of the waters at Miyajimain Island.

At the time I was spending a few weeks in a small country town on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Walking along one of the streets in the town the day after reading their blog, I was taken aback when I saw the Itsukushima Shrine painted on a garden fence.

It seemed like an awfully big coincidence.

But maybe it wasn’t so so strange…

Japanese people began coming to Canada in the late 19th century and many settled in British Columbia.. The province still has the largest Japanese community in Canada, and many are of course now Canadian born.

Seeing the shrine on the fence in that country town got me thinking about the experience of immigrants. I’m an immigrant myself, having left my home country to live in another.

Japanese people experienced racism in Canada. Similarly, people from India, Pakistan and the Caribbean experienced racism when they first arrived in the UK in the mid 20th century. And it still goes on – pretty much everywhere.

But consider this: the people on the receiving end of racism and the people expressing that racism are usually strangers. So if that’s the case, the racism can only stem from fear: the fear of ‘difference’.

And yet we are all different; no two people are exactly the same.

We are each a product of the combined influences of our individual lives – such as our family heritage, our culture and traditions, the behavioural norms we’ve grown up with, the people around us, the experiences we’ve gone through. We are all unique, regardless of race, colour or any kind of persuasion.

It means there must be a certain degree of difference – a certain point – beyond which that difference is unacceptable to some.

And yet if those experiencing racism and those expressing it are strangers, and those expressing it have no idea exactly how different or similar another person actually is, the racism must have been caused by myths and stories – stories from the press, stories from government and stories passed down, often unconsciously, from previous generations.

That’s why it’s so important, if humanity is to stop tearing itself (and the planet) apart by division, that we understand people’s real stories.

It’s vital that we look for our shared humanity – so that we can celebrate that we’re all different in some way, instead of making dangerous assumptions that drive us apart.

Now that I understand more about Japanese Canadian history, seeing the Itsukushima shrine painted on that garden fence in Canada doesn’t seem strange at all. It was only my European eyes that couldn’t make sense of it at the time.

Because I didn’t understand the story.

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