Merriam Webster defines a phobia as “an exaggerated, usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects, or situation.” Hence, someone who has a pathological fear of spiders is said to be suffering from arachnophobia. Those who suffer from an overwhelming anxiety of being in public places are considered agoraphobic.
Let’s take apart that definition for a moment, because the word “phobia” is being attached to anything and everything these days. And there’s a devious reason behind it.
By definition, for something to be a phobia, the fear must be exaggerated, inexplicable, even illogical. Now, those terms are pretty subjective. But in general we can agree that people aren’t living in hysteria over some of the issues to which we attach the suffix “phobe.”
This past week, actor/comedian Jamie Foxx made a joke about a celebrity (as comedians often do) and he paid a dear price for it. In his joke about Bruce Jenner’s choice to undergo a gender identity change, Foxx was called a “transphobe.” Yes, that’s a word now, apparently. Did Foxx, in making a joke, demonstrate an irrational fear? Are we to believe that he has an illogical and inexplicable fear of transgenders?
No doubt, you’ve heard of a few other “phobes” over the past few months…islamophobes, homophobes, etc. When the truth is, most of the people given these labels have no bizarre fear of the subject at hand, but rather simply disagree with it. Believing homosexuality is wrong or a sin, for example, does not make one a homophobe. Being ridiculously terrified of homosexuals or homosexuality, on the other hand, might.
So, if that’s the case, why are so many groups using this suffix to describe those who disagree with them? Simple. Because calling you a phobe paints you as weak, irrational, impotent. If someone can make you look smaller, emasculate you over your beliefs, then they’ve won half the battle. When choosing a side on an issue, people almost always want to go with the side that seems strong, powerful, confident.
While watching a basketball game on TV recently, I asked my 8-year old which team he was cheering for. He replied, “Well, which team is winning? That’s them team I'm cheering for.” And that’s symbolic of our culture today. We want to cheer on the winner. We want to support the strong. So if one team can make the other appear weak and feeble, if they can give the impression that siding with "them" makes you a loser, then they have already started winning the important battle of public opinion.
Knowing this, proponents of certain causes will attach the phobe suffix to anyone who disagrees with them, and therefore try to indoctrinate the phobe word into your vocabulary. If they can get you to use their vernacular, then you have become an advocate for their cause. And it's not by mistake that these agenda-pushing folks are aiming for our impressionable youth--teens and tweens whose identities are often centered on being with the "in-crowd"...and who are prolific users of social media.
So, if you are using (or rather misusing) these “phobe” words, you have already bought into this false notion that anyone who disagrees with you is weak—and you are being used. You are marketing a belief, created by a group with an agenda, to further perpetuate their beliefs, lifestyle or choices. You are, by allowing these words to be abused and misused out of context, emasculating anyone who may simply disagree with you.
Quite honestly, it’s a cheap ploy. It seems people these days don't know how to accept someone disagreeing with them. And this inability to accept another opinion is the very epitome of intolerance.
Words are powerful. They have built nations and they have destroyed them. They can move the heart and they can crush it. Words can leave indelible marks. If a group with an agenda can get a word to “stick”, they know they have created something powerful. So be careful how you use these words. Be careful where you toss these suffixes around. Not everything is a phobia. Not everyone who disagrees with you has an irrational, inexplicable, or illogical fear of your belief.
Sometimes, they just disagree.