Thurmophobia (noun, thur-mo-pho-bee-aah) refers to the irrational – and sometimes rational – fear of finding common ground with either a group of others, or a particular individual. It is named after prestigious author and philosopher Howard Washington Thurman, who popularized the concept of finding “common ground” and proposed it as the key to any community’s healthy development. Unfortunately, common ground is becoming increasingly difficult to find in recent years, when the human condition feels increasingly frustrated with sharing even common air.
The concept of Thurmophobia was first proposed within the last decade (or, more specifically, like three days ago) by
hopelessly flailing esteemed Boston University student Aaraf Afzal. Afzal writes for his fantastic modest student blog Culture Shock that the phobia “stems from a series of factors, not the least of which is the ‘other’-ing of fellow human beings.” Indeed, uncited research has shown that human beings, feeling more and more pressure to be “unique,” have been divorcing their own identity from that of others as a form of self-assurance, or protest against the norm.
Factors contributing to the recent surge in Thurmophobia include feelings of superiority, or the idea that the self could never, ever have something in common with one they perceive in a negative light. In such instances, one may criticize another’s upbringing, beliefs, or passions even if they overlap with their own, for the pure rush of feeling – again – different. On the other side of the coin, feelings of inferiority, too, can be cited as a major factor. How could the self, worthless as they are, be anything like the smarter, the stronger, the funnier and the more charismatic? The two issues are mutually linked, as those of the former grouping often push down those of the latter, via a phenomenon called “bullying.” Those of the latter grouping push up those of the former, via a phenomenon called “envy.” To address both issues, doctors tend to prescribe healthy helpings of humility and/or compassion.
Of course, one must not discount the possibility of the fear being rational. In this case, Thurmophobia may stem from a feeling of being “other”-ed, as many of us so often are. Alienated individuals or those with social anxiety, constantly fearful of being judged, often have a hard time relating to their peers, and for good reason. Their experiences of the world may have subjected them to vibes in the atmosphere: vibes that the world around them is always watching, always judging. They wonder, who are they to impede on the social cues that are considered fundamentally good, considered normal? How can one nod in agreement to the dream of the white picket fence, when oneself feels unsafe at such a prospect? How can one feel comfortable with the idea of connecting to strangers, seeking out love and loyalty through common ground, when making oneself so vulnerable is so terrifying? How, when the environment in which one lives day-to-day is almost toxic, unbreathable, as fellow humankind reminds them that the very act of being different is a crime?
Thurmophobia is not like other phobias, in that it can very much be rational. Esteemed scholars Biggie D and Pepperjack Jill (both experts on pharmacology, with a concentration in Marijuana) agree that we live, love and learn in difficult times, dudes. And in such times, Thurmophobia is not only to be expected but also welcomed. We do not necessarily need to fight our fear of common ground; setting ourselves apart is, of course, what makes us unique, reminds us we are a sum of intricate parts and experiences no one else could replicate. However, what we do need to fight is its ultimate source: those who would put us down to make themselves feel better, those who fear the unknown, those who defy change and justice and humankind’s great ability to think for itself. As the old adage says, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” and perhaps that is where our greatest common ground lies: we are everyone one in a fight against oppression, one in a fight against all.
photo credit: jay galvin Mural Behind Sydney Main Library – To Be Free Is To Have No Fear, To Have No Fear, via photopin (license)