Merriam Webster online dictionary defines fear as; to be afraid of (something or someone); to expect or worry about (something bad or unpleasant); to be afraid and worried. These definitions of fear fall under the category of a verb that is transitive while using the word fear as a noun conveys the same core meaning. Fear as a noun is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by being aware of danger; a feeling of being afraid; and a feeling of respect and wonder for something very powerful. No matter how it is defined, the emotions associated with fear leads to an avoidance of some kind. Fears may be rational, but in many cases fear can be irrational because people tend to fear things and events that they feel are beyond their control.
One category of people that always elicits a sense of dread and foreboding are strangers; especially from another culture. Very few subjects other than strangers would justify irrational fears and sometimes for a logical reason. People would be hard pressed to watch the local news and see stories that portray society in the most negative light because the news is overrun with stories of how crime is ravaging our neighborhoods. If this is the only point of view that a person sees about a different culture, neighborhood, or society, that will likely shape any possible interaction a person has in the event they come into contact with a stranger; whom they are only familiar with based on media reports of persons from that background, area, etc. The problem with interactions based on media reports is that it reduces people to one dimensional abstractions when in reality people are more complex than what is presented at face value.
Overcoming the fear of the unknown requires the opposite of fear: bravery and confidence that strangers are not something to be feared. One way to get over this fear is to have knowledge of another person’s cultural background beyond media narratives. Reading a book or magazine article about other cultures written by people from that specific culture is a good start to breaking down cultural barriers. Another, more potent way of overcoming the fear of strangers would be to talk to a stranger. A simple greeting communicated with respect would be a great start to breaking down cultural barriers. The logical next step is to avoid making generalizations based on preconceived notions that have been implanted based on media narratives. After that point, the interlocutors may find out that they have some common interest and a possible budding friendship could emerge.
One proactive way overcome the fear of strangers is to join an organization, or find some way to offer support. This nonprofit organization, Making It to The Finish Line, helps out the youth in the Detroit area overcome some of the challenges that are present in the area. The theme of unity is the best way of overcoming the fear of the unknown, which starts at the individual level. Overcoming such fears will create the building blocks to create a better society so that children will have a better life than their parents. At Making It to The Finish Line, we intend to do our part to help make the world a better place.