The Fear of the Other

Ornithophobia, Sheldon explains in The Big Bang Theory, is the fear of birds. He’s terrified of a big blue bird outside his window, and when he tries to use a broom to make it fly away, it instead flies into his apartment. Sheldon gets Bernadette to rescue him by catching the bird.  “Flush it down the toilet!” he begs. Bernadette insists that he pet the bird. He does, but still insists she should flush it away.

When we return to Sheldon on the show, he’s holding the bird. He’s nicknamed her “his little Lovey-Dovey.” He looks at her with adoring eyes. He makes plans for spending time with this sweet blue bird. When Lovey Dovey flies out the window, Sheldon is devastated. He puts up posters to try to get her back.

What changed Sheldon’s mind?

Spending time with the creature he was frightened of.

Photo by Nik MacMillan on Unsplash

Fear of the unknown.

Fear of “the other.”

Fear of the thing or creature or person we are unfamiliar with.

We all deal with it.

The solution? Spending time with what or who is feared. It worked for Sheldon. It works for us. Really.

We don’t usually fear activities we do often. It’s rare for us to fear people we know well. We don’t usually fear our neighbors. (Even people whose neighbors turn out to be serial killers are often saying, “He was such a nice guy.”)

In the past months and years, white teenaged boys have committed several horrifying school shootings. But I’m not fearful of white teen boys. I’m not afraid of them because I happen to know many white teen boys. These boys are great guys— funny, serving others, interesting, hard working. I know “all white teenaged boys” are not killers. The shooter is an aberration.

When I find myself feeling fearful of the other—whether what makes them “other” is their clothing, their gender, their religion, their lifestyle, their ethnicity, their political affiliation, their socioeconomic status, their anything—the solution is to make the connection and get to know them, or at least people like them.

For instance, I’m not fearful of Muslims. Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to become friends with people who follow the Islamic faith. While I may not share their religious beliefs, they are great people—funny, serving others, interesting, hard working, good friends. I know “all Muslims” are not desirous of being suicide bombers. Those that commit such a horror are an aberration.

Photo by Miguel Orós on Unsplash

Who is “the other” you fear? Why not ask God to bring one of “them” into your life in some way? Make the effort to get outside of your own fears and meet people who are different from you in whatever way you find frightening. Let yourself be surprised. Watch the fear unravel as you commit to knowing.

Every person on the planet is created in the image of God. Each one is loved by God.

Don’t let your own fear keep you from life-enriching relationships. Meet your neighbor (remember Jesus’s definition of neighbor in the Good Samaritan story, Luke 10:25–37).

Make the connection—until “the other” becomes “my friend.”

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