What it’s like on the inside looking out

How do we feel about those different from us?

And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. (Exodus 1:9‭-‬11 ESV)

Our instinctive distrust of people who aren’t like us isn’t new.

Nor is it new that, where outsiders have increased in number, insiders have felt threatened.

And it is certainly not new that we have often responded as we do to any perceived threat: we do something to assuage our fear. And often that’s via contingency plans to trim the threat down to non-threatening size, and establish who’s in charge.

None of it is new.

What’s new is the scale at which the situation arises in these times.

Time was when a person could live and die without having any close relationships with people outside their immediate community. In Nigeria, many of my generations’ parents didn’t just come from the same part of the country — sometimes they were even from the same town or village!

But those times are long gone.

Thanks to technology and transportation, humanity is connected to an unprecedented degree, dwarfing anything the Roman empire ever achieved.

Now, when you work and worship with people from all over the country — or the world! —your pool of potential friends and life partners is broader than your parents ever had. (Perhaps one reason the latter seems a more difficult decision these days, but that’s another story.) Contact with outsiders is no longer an option, but the default reality.

Yet the old suspicion lingers on.

We thought we had gotten past this, but apparently we never really did.

If anything is really different, it’s the other new thing: that we define ourselves less by geography and more by ideology. Where before people in the same place generally believed the same things, now we can find people who agree with us from thousands of miles away.

Like, you know, you and me, right now. (Hopefully.)

But outsiders still exist: those who don’t come from the same places we come from, whether geographically or ideologically, or both.

It’s easy to feel angry and upset by those who’re distrustful of people from other places, to wonder why they seem to be against the progress that being connected means. But however right we may be to judge them, we may well take the time to consider how better we really are.

Maybe we shouldn’t be comparing their fear of those who are suspicious to our openness to those who are different,

Maybe we should be comparing their fear to our own fear.

Maybe the question we be should asking to test our own hearts is:

How do WE respond to those WE feel threatened by?


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