The word xenophobia comes from two Greek words: xeno, meaning stranger or foreigner, and phobia, which refers to fear or horror. The definition of xenophobia is simple: fear of foreigners. The ancient Greeks were famous xenophobes. So were the Chinese. In both cases, xenophobia contributed to the decline of their civilizations.
Today, evidence of xenophobia is everywhere--certainly in the Middle East, but also in the rise of racism and anti-Semitism in Europe. In the United States, xenophobia echoes in the increasing calls for isolationist foreign policy and especially in the increasingly shrill rhetoric surrounding offshore outsourcing.
Last week, I attended InformationWeek's Spring Conference in Hollywood, Fla. The first morning's keynote speech, on offshore outsourcing, was by Roy Dunbar, Eli Lilly & Co.'s president of international operations. Dunbar noted that as U.S. companies create jobs in other countries, they're creating new markets for their products. "Growing economies are consuming economies," he said.
This week's cover story, by senior editor Paul McDougall, is on the role of business technology in what is undoubtedly the most energized economy in the world today, China ("The Place To Be"). Technology practices in China are less obstructive than you might imagine, but cultural differences and infrastructure issues are still problematic. China has nearly 1 billion consumers between the ages of 15 and 65, and the marketplace is a strong impetus to overcome problems, as it should be. But can it overcome irrational fear?
Xenophobia may be a vestigial remnant of some evolutionary directive. But today, it's a dangerous and self-defeating attitude that must be rejected at every turn. This is necessary not only for business to flourish, but for the spirit of man to flourish.
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