No matter which side of the debate you come down on, it’s an impossible situation because no one wants to be truly honest. You either love refugees or you hate them. There seems to be no in between. If you hate them, you’ll naturally vilify them: they’re here to rape your women, convert everyone to their faith (and we all know what that is), and take away your jobs. If you love them, you’ll overenthusiastically embrace their culture (which is always so wonderfully different from yours), their braveness (after all, everyone knows they went through hell and back), and the fact that without them your life really wouldn’t be complete, because they enriched it so much.
Here’s where the problem lies, no matter which side of the debate you come down on, they are always They; a general, generic group, composed of featureless faces, a collective, a concept. Of course this statement in itself is a gross generalization. Not everyone sees merely a faceless mask. But for those who do, their interests are driven more by a self-serving purpose than genuine concern. It feels good to be able to pat yourself on the back, to reassure yourself what a wonderful person you are for caring so much about Them and Their plight.
Here’s what these people don’t realize, by locking Them into this narrative, you’re actually taking away from Their humanity. They will always be beneath you, always the ones needing guidance and help, which you willingly provide. Not unlike those well-meaning colonials, who just had to teach “those wretched locals the proper way,” to appropriate and horribly mangle a Dirk Bogarde quote (mainly because I lost all of his books, and I swear I had them all, because I was a huge fan after having had a conversation with a dear friend on Death in Venice, even though no one would ever mistake me for a fan of Thomas Mann), “these colonial women didn’t realize they were doing more damage with their do-gooder actions than their husbands had done with their guns and arms.”
So what is the solution you ask? Find common ground. We might not all listen to the same music, but some acts are pretty international enough for you to bond (not to mention that every country has its own Julio Iglesias, Rod Stewart, Tom Jones; old guys accomplished in their own right (whether you like them or not) still able to pull in the ladies (or desperate fans). Find those, listen to them, compare notes). Find someone who likes to read and compare notes the way you would with your friends who are into different genres.
Create a band, play a sport, spot each other in the gym. Focus on the activity, on what connects you, not on what sets you apart. Look for a partner in crime with whom you can tell a story rather than making your new “friend” the subject of your own narrative.