It’s only natural to have a fear of the unknown. Grouping things as scary or dangerous in our minds has actually benefited human survival. The psychological mechanisms that allow for bias, prejudice, and fear of the different and unknown told our distant ancestors to stay safe and survive. However, today in modern American, the majority of us do not face life and death situations out in the wild. We deal with modern problems such as chronic stress from work, debt from school, back pain from sitting in the office for too long, and irritation from dealing with politics. So we don’t have the need to constantly engage with our fears that once kept us safe.
We need to recognize those fears and reorganize our thoughts.
Unfortunately, we sometimes can’t help falling back on that fear. Especially when it comes to fearing for our safety. We don’t listen to numbers or statistics or just plain facts. We create strong associations with negative events and want to do everything we can to prevent them.
It might seem like I am just rambling thus far, so allow me to present a more concrete example. People are more afraid of airplanes than they are of cars. You are far more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash. But people have more fear surrounding planes because when a plane crashes, it’s horrendous. It’s nightmarish and gruesome and overwhelmingly tragic. People die in car accidents all the time, but it doesn’t get the same coverage on media and it doesn’t elicit the same fear.
My ultimate point about this fear is that people I’ve talked to, people I know, and people I look up to can all fall into the trap of being afraid of refugees. They can be afraid of the possibility of refugees being terrorists or the fear of refugees killing people. Yes, a handful refugees have killed people, but people in general have killed people. Refugees are no more dangerous than people we encounter in everyday life. In fact, immigrants commit crimes at much lower rates than native-born citizens. As Justin Trudeau says, everything has risks, but that should not mean that we don’t take in refugees because there are risks. The risks are really minimal; as explained by John Oliver, more people are killed by peanuts and by people named Mike than are killed by refugees. In America especially, more people are killed by gun violence by native-born citizens. You are far more likely to be killed by your neighborhood police officer than by a refugee, but that doesn’t mean that you should live in a perpetual state of fear of either. Fear shouldn’t rule your life.
It is only natural to think when people are different than us, they are more scary and more homogenous. But all of the millions of refugees are just people who want a basic human need: safety. It’s just easier to think of a mass migration of refugees as a threat because the fear in our minds over inflates the risk of taking in refugees. Yes, refugees have the possibility of bringing danger, just like every other group of people in the world. But it is important to keep in mind, they are no more dangerous than any other group of people in the world.
As the child of two proud immigrants, it saddens me to hear all of the hate-filled, fear-mongering rhetoric surrounding this election cycle. Everyone fears death, demise, lack of safety, and failure. It is wrong to capitalize on those fears for votes at the expense of blaming, targeting, and ostracizing an already marginalized group. Having a scapegoat won’t solve everything.
The U.S. had a hand in the displacement and endangering of people. We said we had the resources to do good in the Middle East. We thought we were doing good by attacking. We say we have resources to bomb, to send troops, and to destroy people’s livelihoods. I don’t think we realized the ramifications our well-intentioned actions would have. But now we stand in the middle of a human crisis that we had a hand in creating, and we say our doors our closed to refugees. We say we don’t have the resources to help them, we want to ensure our own security, we need to protect our own.
Granted, it is very possible to stretch a nation’s resources thin by accepting large numbers of refugees, just as some other countries already have. But the United States has not even gotten close to that point. We are such a large nation that has accepted so few refugees that I’ve heard it described as being akin to letting three more people into the a college football stadium of 80,000 people.
Both America and Germany are nations where the sentiment surrounding refugees is split about 50/50. It’s interesting that in America and Germany, people in areas without refugees are more afraid of refugees than people whose lives are integrated with refugees. I think the best way to conquer our fear is exposure therapy. If you’re afraid of water, learn to swim. If you’re afraid of refugees, learn the real story behind refugees and see the actual people behind the label. Know that they want to have jobs, protect their families, and find safety.
We once rejected Jewish refugees in the wake of the Holocaust. We now reject Syrian, Afghan, and other refugees in the wake of human crisis. History does not remember our fear of Jewish refugees fondly.
I certainly do not think history will remember our fear of Syrian refugees very fondly either.Rea