How limiting is my fear?
There are many theories and studies that support that we have a natural tendency to avoid, push away from, or fear people who are different from us. Our inherent fight or flight responses trigger us to turn away from, or defend against, people who are different until we understand that they are safe. Researchers claim that xenophobic tendencies (fear of people from other countries) are hardwired into our brains and cause our judgments to drive emotional decisions. Tribalism, the theory of cultural conformity and loyalty, keeps us from wandering off and joining other groups that may differ culturally, socially, economically, religiously or in any other way from our tribe of origin. Tribalism also motivates those in our tribes to resort to bullying, or threats of shunning, as tools for keeping us in the tribe if we dare to engage or explore outside.
These hardwired tendencies originate from when we, as humans, were newly evolving. Our survival depended on fleeing from or fighting anything that we did not recognize as similar to ourselves. Survival of the tribe depended on keeping the tribe united and populated. Unlike today, we lacked experience with other members of the human race who were outside of or dissimilar to our tribe. Barriers such as language, experience and geography kept us from knowing the values that motivated those we encountered that were different.
The good news is that we are able to mitigate the impact of these tendencies through self-awareness and by intentionally letting go of patterns of behavior that no longer serve us. We can feel empathy for bullies who are threatened by change or fear of losing their tribe, while simultaneously choosing the path that feels right for us. We can engage with those who appear or seem different to learn what values motivate them and decrease what or who feels scary to us. We can choose to connect because of our most profound similarity - the beating of our hearts.
This topic surfaces quite a bit in coaching. In leadership coaching it comes up a great deal when participants are frustrated with hiring and retaining solid candidates. Frequently we explore the willingness, or lack thereof, to hire people who are from outside their tribe (dress differently, different social class, different language, even different educational background – whatever the case may be). During this exploration my clients uncover that they are still allowing that inherent tendency towards fear to cause them to avoid what is different or unknown. I want to be clear, I’m not talking specifically about race or nationality here, but that can apply even though we continually declare that we don’t hold any prejudices. I guide participants to explore how they may be hiring only people who are like them, or if they are willing to take the risk to hire people who aren’t so much like them.
Are you willing to hire people from outside of your “tribe” – whatever that means to you?
In personal growth and development coaching I delve into this exploration when people come to me because they are feeling isolated, disconnected and wondering if they will ever experience love. Exploration of how we disconnect and isolate – especially from ourselves – when we begin to experience or feel things that are outside the norms of our tribe of origin is an eye opening experience. It was for me. It took me a long time to let go of shame or guilt that I had chosen a path (or several paths) that were not the path that my tribe of origin chose to walk.
This is a big topic, especially for our country and our world in this political climate. But if we can simply accept that the tendency to avoid or push away from our fellow humans who may be different from us is an inherent reaction, we can then begin to be fascinated by that tendency and make conscious choices to respond versus react.
- We can increase our comfort zone and decrease our fear.
- We can begin to break down the barriers we put in place to protect ourselves from things we no longer have to fear.
- We can stop staying small in a world that is moving forward through deeper global connections and opportunities.
- We can decrease fear and isolation by engaging with, not resisting, people who differ from us.
- We can clearly see those who attempt to bully us to keep us within our tribe of origin and make our own choices for how diverse and exciting we want our chosen tribe to be.
- And we can walk our authentic path as it emerges from what is comfortable today and weaves through the exploration of what is possible.
Learn to recognize what the avoidance tendency feels like in your body. It likely is similar to the fight or flight response (i.e. sweaty palms, rapid heart beat, constriction in chest, etc.). When the tendency arises, breathe and know you can choose to be fascinated instead of pretending it isn’t there. Acknowledge the discomfort instead of feeling shamed by it. And then let go of the rock by engaging and learning, taking a tiny step towards connecting and expanding your comfort zone.