If you’re scratching your head and saying, “Huh?” at the title of this post, you’re not alone! It’s a neologism, a new word. In pondering the phenomenon of human beings preferring other human beings who are as much like themselves as possible, I thought there should be a word.
My first choice was homophilia, but that has apparently already been used to describe people who like homosexuals. That’s a fine use for that word, but I still needed a word for my meaning. After consulting with my son (who has a master’s in philosophy), I decided on “familiarophilia” and define it this way: “the tendency of most human beings to prefer/like/love that which is familiar to themselves and in many cases that which is as much like themselves as possible; also including the opposite tendency to dislike/fear/hate that which is unfamiliar to or unlike themselves.”
We see that phenomenon playing out everywhere we look these days in the realms of race, religion, nationality, sexual preference, political beliefs, etc. The resulting conflicts and wars cover the globe. Today the arena that is on my mind is neurodiversity.
When we see another person who behaves or learns differently from ourselves or other people with whom we are familiar, we often have a reaction. Instead of seeing that person as simply another human being with unique brain wiring, we often have a tendency to judge. Even knowing as much as I do about differences in brain wiring among people, I have what seems an automatic negative reaction to behavior that doesn’t seem “normal” to me. I might experience initial fear or anger or at least rush to judge: “Why doesn’t he get it? It’s so simple!” or “What is the matter with her? Why can’t she just sit still and pay attention?”
If you recognize this in your own experience, I’m sure you can come up with many of your own typical responses to seeing or experiencing something that is outside your comfort zone. My guess is that the fundamental reaction beneath the overt horn honking or eye rolling or put downs is fear–fear of the unfamiliar or unknown. We are wired toward safety and protecting ourselves; most of us feel safest in conditions that are closest to home, to what we already know.
I’m hoping that the scientific revelations about neurodiversity are making their way into the popular media so frequently these days that people are starting to accept that some seemingly unusual behaviors are not the results of moral failings or of failures of parenting. Some people are different from us because their brains are set up differently. Rather than putting them down, we could ask ourselves what we might learn from the way they see things. A new perspective can broaden our experience. Knowledge leads to tolerance which leads to acceptance and empathy which might just lead to “diversophilia.” Looks like we need another new word — for liking or loving things that are different from ourselves, things that broaden and enrich our experience of life if we let them. Think of the possibilities! Peace on earth?
Linda Williams Swanson is a partner in Free To Be Coaching, LLC, in Warrenton, VA. Her website is freetobecoaching.com; visit the site and contact her or her husband, Neil, for a complimentary exploratory session. They are presently accepting new clients from age 13-90. (Linda and Neil do most of their coaching either in person, or by phone, Skype, or FaceTime. High school students are usually coached in person.)