Human nature is to fear the things we don't know or don't understand. When people act in a strange way, or talk in a strange language, it is easy to become fearful or distrustful of them. But once you start to learn, the fear is erased, and often replaced with curiosity and even a thirst for more.
Fearing the things you don't know
I recently told this story in my post about the Greek alphabet, but it's applicable here so it's worth repeating:
Growing up in the United States, I was surrounded with anti-Russian propaganda. Movies and pictures in Russia were scary, filled with strange writing and ominous architecture. But with a little study of history, a big building with a fancy dome has stopped being an ominous building, and is now recognized as a church. And since learning the Russian language, what once used to be scary, strange writing is now easily recognized as a boring old pharmacy, or a restaurant.
All the propanada didn't matter. All the ominous music in all the unrealistic movies became meaningless. What used to sound like an brutal, evil, scary language now sounds beautiful to me. In fact, Russian is now my favorite language... even more so than English!
To extend that thought further, I began learning Russian while dating a Ukrainian girlfriend, and I remember the natural tendency to become distrustful of every conversation in Russian. During every Russian phone call, the inclination is to think it was about you... but once I learned to understand the Russian language, I quickly realized that girl talk is every bit as boring for Russians (and Ukrainians) as it is for English-speaking Americans.
Sadly, I had a friend at the same time who had a Russian wife, but he never learned enough of the language to understand. He always distrusted her, even at those times when I was there and could reassure him of everything that was being said. If you don't know, you have fear, uncertainty, and doubt. In the end, it cost them.
Conquer your fears
Mexican immigration is a hot topic here in the US, but there is an interesting facet to the discussion that few people seem to be aware of: those who have the biggest distrust of those immigrants are those who don't speak the language. Younger people, who grew up learning Spanish in school and from friends don't seem to have a problem with immigrants. Instead of fear, even a small bit of knowledge can provide comfort, and even curiosity.
The curiosity is the interesting thing. When you learn even the smallest little bit of information, you start looking for every opportunity to use it. Learn that mi casa means "my home", and you listen for it in everything you hear. Add a handful of additional vocab, and already you've stopped fearing and started paying attention, listening for every opportunity to recognize something you know. Fear of the unknown disappears, and curiosity takes over.
So who do you fear?
What is the unknown? A different language can be a little strange and scary. Add to that a different alphabet — something you can't even read — and it becomes even more unknown and scary. Especially if it's completely new, like the pictograms of Chinese, or the right-to-left script of Middle Eastern languages. Add to that the new, strange culture, different religion, different beliefs, ways of dressing, etc.
Are you afraid of Greeks or Russians, with their strange alphabets? Are you scared by the Chinese and their pictograms? Maybe you're afraid of Hebrew people with their left-to-right alphabet, or Arabic people and their confusing, elaborately scripted words.
Stop being afraid. A few hours learning the alphabet are enough to begin breaking down that fear. Learn how to pronounce the words you see — even if you don't understand them — and you'll already have built the curiosity that changes a heart and mind.
If you can read the word, you can learn the word. And if you can learn one word, you can learn two. If you can read a few words, you can read a sentence, and you can learn a language, and you can lose that fear forever.
Isn't it worth it? Isn't it worth a few days, or weeks, or months learning about the language and the people in Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or Uzbekistan, or Egypt, or Georgia, or Somalia, or Cambodia, or Bosnia? Would it be worth trading the time you spend watching one tv show to learn, rather than spending the rest of your life fearing whole groups of people? To trade that fear of the unknown for a healthy curiosity about a whole part of the world, with fascinating culture, unique music, delicious food, and much more?
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