Explore the Unknown Before Building a Wall 1

Are you afraid of the unknown? Congrats, you are a normal human being!

What does the unknown mean to you? Is it a job interview when you cannot figure out what tricky questions the interviewer will ask? Is it a new country whose language you do not speak, where you have to move to make a better living? Is it the future itself, which by nature is always unpredictable because of unexpected twists of fate? Or is it people who do not look, think and live as you do?

The sleep of reason produces monsters

People like generalizations and overstatements. They make them feel more secure and able to cope with their limitations as human beings because nobody knows everything. That’s a fact. So what do we do in order to tone down our anxiety and take off weight of our innate fear of the unknown? We measure everything with the same yardstick and start making predictions. We make predictions based on our previous experience. Many of us also make predictions based on the experience of those people whose opinions matter to us. In fact, the latter may seem like the most convenient solution: Why bother doing something or thinking when others did that before and might as well espouse their attitudes and points of view? That’s how the sleep of reason works. And it’s known in the history for having produced some voracious monsters. Nevertheless, there is a better alternative to this behavior, namely to think twice before an overstatement and start sorting out facts on your own.

One size fits all or exploring the unknown?

Just as clothes that come as “one size fits all”, generalizations are unable to clothe every single human being or situation. It is a trap. Rejection based on preconception hurts most. It is way easier to create a barrier between us and “the unknown” as to go out there and start exploring it on our own. The latter takes time, patience and reason, the former only fear. When we seclude ourselves from the big bad world that we haven’t met yet, when we refuse to get to know it before making assumptions, we set limits to our own existence. However, life has too many shapes, colors, tastes, smells and meanings and it’s a pity to only get to know your own.

If you want to destroy it, surround it with thick walls

In her TedTalk on the politics of fiction, Elif Shafak tells a charming story about intercultural dialogue and the reasons to explore the differences between us instead of confining ourselves and the others between thick walls. She compares the ink circles her grandmother used to draw around the warts and blemishes of the people who would come to her to cure their skin problems with the circles we surround ourselves with when we are afraid of the unknown. This metaphor describes all the barriers people set up between themselves and explain the violence, injustice and cruelty that go together with the mankind.


From her I learned a very precious lesson: If you want to destroy something in this life, be it acne, a blemish or the human soul, all you have to do is to surround it with thick walls. It will dry up inside. We all live in some kind of a social or cultural circle, we are born into a certain family, nation, class, but if we have no connection whatsoever with the worlds beyond the one we take for granted, then we, too, run the risk of drying up inside.


Elif Shafak is Turkey’s bestselling female novelist, known for her global and multicultural depictions of the worlds and cultures she has come into contact with. She has spent most of her life as a nomad, traveling and moving from one place to another: France, Spain, Turkey, Germany, USA. Written both in English and in her native Turkish, Shafak’s novels are a melting pot of traditions and modernism, of spirituality and pragmatism and of people of manifold backgrounds.


Cover image by Pixabay

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