Affinity or Aversion?

by Dr. Ken Larsen

What determines our reaction to the people we encounter through life’s journey?

We are drawn to some, feel a comfortable affinity and enjoy being with them.

We are put off by some, feel an often unpleasant aversion, and avoid them when possible.

Through the centuries this affinity or aversion has often been driven by traditions and values inherited from those who went before us.  This poignant song from South Pacific says it well:

You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!

I believe we have come to the place in human history where we are challenged to step back and examine our traditions and values, especially when we discover them as a barrier to healthy connections with others who may be different.

Unwarranted hostility, fear, and suspicion are all barriers to happiness and mental health.  I believe we all, as individuals and as cultures, need to step back from what we have been taught about one another and examine those things that divide.  At one time, these aversions may have had some meaning or purpose.  We are at a place and time in our development as a species where we need to ask ourselves if these barriers still have meaning in today’s world.  More and more we are realizing our need for connections with one another, and to enjoy the satisfaction we gain from warm affinity with one another.  In order to achieve these connections I believe we need to be alert to examine, understand and discard the barriers that keep us at odds with one another.


Our common bond as human beings is emerging as an overriding unifying reality that has the potential to make a difference from the hate and fear that we have been carefully taught.

One might challenge me with the question, “This all sounds good, but what are you doing about it?”

Happily I would smile and talk about the upcoming dialogue I’ve scheduled with a lovely Malaysian lady, Johana Johari.  Johana is a therapist in her country with a faith tradition different from mine.  I am looking forward to just exchanging ideas and experiences and learning how life is in the different cultures we inhabit.  I’ll publish the video if I feel it makes a contribution to our collective education.

I would leave you the reader with the challenge to look at those situations where you experience interpersonal aversions and then ask yourself if the basis of those aversions is something you want to hold on to, or discard.  Dialogue is helpful in this process because it gives us the opportunity to discover what the world is like for one another.  When you realize that maybe you have something in common, it becomes easier to set aside the aversions that set you apart.  In short, discover the meaning of someone who is not like you.  J



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