To be honest I first learnt of this word in 1996 after a famous exchange that occurred between Australian 60 Minutes reporter Tracey Curro and controversial politician Pauline Hanson.  Pauline Hanson was proposing at the time a drastic reduction in Asian immigration as well as criticising the Aboriginal and Torris Straight Island Commission (ATSIC). Her views were widely criticised but she gained support from members of the community who shared her views on this and many other issues related to multicultural Australia. After Hanson was elected to Parliament, she was asked whether she was xenophobic. Hanson replied, “Please explain?” This response became a much-parodied catchphrase within Australian culture. Politics aside, it provoked conversation about Australian identity and cultural difference. As the world continues to get smaller, this topic becomes even more important. It is time to turn Xenophobia into Xenophilia. Let me explain…

Let’s start with the antonym of Xenophobia. Xenophilia means the sympathy we have for a stranger. An affection for unknown/foreign objects, manners, cultures or people.

We might all have a different perspective on this; however, I for one am so very glad that most of the world truly is xenophilic. Having travelled to 59 countries of the world and living as a resident in 6 different countries, if it was not for the welcoming, hospitable and supportive people I have spent time with, maybe I too might have a distorted view of difference.

News stories highlight differences. Movies and social media provoke and entertain based on difference. Sadly, many wars, conflict, political challenges and racism are fuelled by difference or a desire to exclude it.

Beyond 2020 we cannot achieve improved peace and harmony, smoother economies, better health (Covid-19 is proving that) and better relationships until we realise the interdependence of countries and culture as well as the benefits of it. This recent crisis shouts very loudly that even a ripple in one country will impact on almost every other country in ways we might previously not have predicted. It is certainly time we turn conflict in difference (Xenophobia) into seeing advantage in difference (Xenophilia).

The natural and primitive urge for strangers to trigger fear and hostile reactions within us needs to be educated out of us. While such a notion is often the domain of the “warm and fuzzy,” surely now logic can take over and it is time to realise that it must happen. Surely when we put money (the economy) and health (pandemic crises and such) arguments behind such an idea it will gain greater traction in this next century.

If you listen to the news and social media, it is easy to believe that the current mood is against globalization and immigrants but, in truth, the vast bulk of the world remains staggeringly hospitable.

“The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign land. The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong man has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his. From boyhood I have dwelt on foreign soil and I know with that grief sometimes the mind takes leave of the narrow hearth of a peasant’s hut, and I know too how frankly it afterwards disdains marble firesides and panelled halls.” wrote the 12th-century French theologian Hugh of St. Victor

It is time to love the differences. It is time to see the benefits in the differences.

Our education systems must teach through exposing learners to diverse perspectives. Programs such as Model United Nations (MUN) and Theory of Knowledge (TOK) should be core business in all schools. We need to help children learn cultural difference through activities that deeply require children to “walk in someone else’s shoes”. We need to teach children “how to think” and what shapes our knowledge and the way we think. Thinking about thinking (metacognition) should be one of the new essential skills of a global world. If we understand then adjust our thinking then our behaviours can be more appropriate and effective.

We should encourage a focus on “cultural translation” rather than assuming “language translation” or fluency in a new language can bring us together. Realistically, dominant languages will remain dominant. If I am an Australian kid in a regional Australian town, I am not going to be motivated to learn an additional language. It was not until I travelled and needed to communicate with others that I saw value. I wish I spoke other languages fluently but unless learning a language serves a functional purpose, then we are not being realistic in knowing what is required to be xenophilic. Personally, my need to become culturally competent has always outweighed my need to speak another language at levels that make me fluent. We need all young people to become welcoming and open to strangers. Misunderstandings arise not only from insufficient language skills but more so from a lack of knowledge about the other culture. Our next generation must get even better at this.

Religions could play a role to achieve this, but in practice religions are not universally effective at sharing this intercultural message. Not everyone is part of a religion and even within each religion, the interpretation of core values that supports this is not universal. We also know religions have their own issues with xenophobia and they too often see differences rather than their similarities. I am a Christian and mean no disrespect to any religion. History tells us however, that separation of church and state as well as secular education driving reforms is a better approach and more accepting by the masses. In fact once we institutionalise an idea, we tend to create greater boundaries around the difference.

turn Xenophobia into Xenophilia
Turn Xenophobia into Xenophilia

How to expand Xenophilia?

We need to celebrate other cultures. Let’s pull in all the many things that are so easy to love about different cultures. Food, fashion, festivals and fun is superficial but it is a starting point. Just a starting point…

We need to understand what Xenophobia really is. It is naivety. It is a lack of knowledge. It is previous limited experience that may not represent the whole. It is not knowing the truth!

Callout bigotry, racism and xenophobia? Maybe…. Yes, let’s do that but let’s not make this the focus. These arguments are never won. Lets harshly deal with the extremes but let’s divert attention to lift up the very best examples, spokespersons and representatives of difference. Let’s give them a platform, a voice. Let their light shine. To debate what is actually not true, legitimises the perception of difference.

Teach our young people kindness, acceptance and how to understand and talk about difference, without judgement. As previously mentioned there are many programs like MUN and TOK that help frame these conversations and develop these skills.

Make it a priority to focus on relationships. Multicultural relationships start with understanding difference. When our conversations are half full, with understanding and empathy, we will less often be empty of compassion and authentic connection. Difference is not a threat, it is an opportunity to expand our world view and be even better.

If xenophobia is the virus, then xenophilia is the cure.

CEO and Education Expert Greg Parry

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Internationally renowned for his expertise in education leadership, Greg Parry’s vast experience includes leadership of projects for edu-cation institutions throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education in 2015 and 2016.

Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained teachers and principals throughout the world in areas such as critical thinking, language development and leadership. His expertise in school start up projects, leadership and curriculum development, has made him a sought after authority in these disciplines.

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Global Services in Education set up and operate schools in all parts of the world. Governed by a philosophy of global citizenship, every member of the GSE team shares a passion to help shape international education and student achievement through inspiration and collaboration.
Our goal is to meet the highest objectives of every school, teacher, student and parent, with an unwavering dedication to quality education, shared ideals and intercultural perspectives.