“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself…” FDR
This is the statement that has popped into my head repeatedly throughout each new tragedy that this country has dealt with since 9/11. Really, a warning label on life should exist. It would simply bear the words of FDR as a permanent reminder of the most dangerous weakness of humanity as well as our greatest threat.
Being human, we are prone to quickly react to anything that scares us by avoiding it, or on a larger scale, outlawing it. If outlawing something is not a possibility for whatever reason, humans sadly, are capable of much more drastic measures. We try to control anything in our power that we associate with our fears. Its seems to become an obsession, especially in this country.
We are afraid of those things that challenge the way we want our children to see the world, and of those people who want to challenge the way we view it. We are afraid of chaos, of violence, of desperation, and of change. We are even afraid of passion. We forget how scary we are when something is in the way of removing those things that intimidate us. The way humans react when challenged in a group is by far the most dangerous of all.
Censorship, bullying, hate, violence, bigotry… these are all products of the collective fear. And in this country we have a horrible track record of turning to extreme measures to alleviate the fears of its citizens. Just a few examples from the last half century or so; turning on our neighbors in the hunt for communists during the red scare, practically forcing young men to fight a war that they do not believe in, using our tragic heartbreak of 9/11 to rally people into fighting another war against a completely unrelated threat.
In the process of attempting to fight back before we learned what we were fighting, we somehow even managed to redefine the idea of “terrorists” from violent extremists who are not attached to single government, to being the entire Middle East, all Muslims everywhere, and anybody who happens to stand out, citizens or not, in this country. We criticize countries like Iran without understanding that the people who live there did not all choose to make the fundamentalist Islam teaching into law. They used to live similarly to us, making their own decisions about how they practiced religion. Power seeking and angry individuals took advantage of human fear and created a revolt big enough to force everyone into practicing Islam uniformly so their country wouldn’t be punished by Allah for being immoral. Are we not heading in that direction as well? Definitely not a lack of trying…
Our willingness to fight for our freedom and to protect ourselves, basically our fear, constantly exploited by “terror alerts,” or the dramatized media coverage of tragedy and violence, and even an “attack” on our “family values” has caused people to hate others without any interest in understanding who they are.
During many of the conflicts in which we involved ourselves, foreign and domestic, including the threats on our values, we have taken it upon ourselves to hunt down possible enemies within our borders. We punish them without regard as to whether these people have any association at all to our perceived enemy. We do it because of minor similarities to the targeted threat, such as being the same race, religion, or sexual orientation. We have even been known to attack those who support the undeserving victims of our hatred.
We shun, taunt, vandalize, abuse, hate, torture, and feel justified in doing so. We have punished our very own citizens for resembling those we fear, forgetting that these Americans may also have grieved with us. Equally afraid, they may have been just as willing to fight an enemy. Instead they endured constant fear in their own communities. Our vengeance being just as cruel, if not more so than the violent offenders who initiated the conflict.
When a group of people get together with vocalized fear, their immediate response is to find a tangible enemy to fight. We are prone to jumping on this bandwagon in the aftermath of a specific violent or shocking event and as a reaction to a movement towards potential social change. It can be widespread throughout the nation, or localized to just a few very angry and outspoken people who would rather punish others than face their own insecurities and self-hatred.
Parents, fearing that their children are exposed to something they are not prepared to explain will seek out those who agree with them and build off each others’ need to “protect” their kids. Instead of using each other as support to find ways to guide their children through the more challenging realizations, they will consider it their duty to make sure no parent will ever have to explain something difficult and even find it necessary to raise their child their own way. With their combined voices they can push anything from media censorship, banning books, and firing passionate educators, to causing taxpayers to shell out ridiculous amounts of money, not to educate our children, but to further restrict those who help mold them. Schools will just be training facilities for the essentially mindless obedience necessary to memorize acceptable responses, as opposed to creating and problem solving.
We fear those who are too religious and those who are not religious enough. We blame the excluding of God from public schools for school violence while we fail to teach our children compassion and empathy at home. We blame homosexuality for trying to ruin marriage as we happily prepare for our fifth one. We blame hardworking determined immigrants, who struggle just to show their kids a better life, for stealing jobs and using our taxpayers’ money to educate their children. We fear what they are taking away from us while we sit at home collecting welfare checks and handouts because we are just too lazy to work hard. Our fortunate children are not even being pushed to take full advantage of the education that could open so many doors for them. We fear giving handouts but have no problem with taking advantage of them. We fear being attacked by another nation while we accumulate debt and continue this false sense of security we have grown accustomed to, and China practically owns us.
Our fear, whether as an individual or as a nation is how we become passionately ignorant hypocrites. Our arrogant strength is masking the never-ending search for new ways to stay one step ahead, or rather a thousand steps ahead of any perceived threats. We focus so much of our energy and money into building arsenals, (both metaphorically and literally) to obtain an illusive peace of mind. Instead, we create more anger and more fear. We indulge in creating perceived safety and strength, while inside we grow weaker and more susceptible to being intimidated. We create fearful followers who struggle to envision a safe future. Instead, we need to encourage compassionate leaders and critical thinkers to step up and show us a path to a better present.
My personal philosophy on my own fears is to always face what I am afraid of and never allow myself to miss an opportunity to conquer it. For example, my childhood phobia of tornadoes caused me to sit in front of the weather channel for hours learning everything I possibly could about them. Now I am not only no longer afraid, but I can help ease fear in those around me by explaining why we are safe.
Every time the panic begins to set in, we just need to move towards our goals and not look back. I have never once regretted doing what I was afraid of because each feat, whether small or monumental has led me forward in my life and allowed me to thrive as a passionately positive and compassionate human being who is always willing to learn life’s next lesson.
When we face a challenge as a group, instead of immediately responding with panic, fear, and proposing more ways of isolating ourselves from any possible threats, we need to respond with reflection and intelligence. Our strength will be in our empathy, positive outlook, rational problem solving, and willingness to learn as much as we can about what we are up against so as to move past it without further devastation.
We should see these times of conflict and sadness as an opportunity to support one another, not by spreading the gossip and negativity, and not by blindly hating the enemy. We should take a step back to grieve or whatever is necessary to move past the emotional stage, without fueling the fires of the angry mob reactions. Do a good deed. A friend of mine said it was like planting a seed for every tree we cut down. For every negative event that occurs, heal by doing a good deed, just something that is completely for someone other than yourself. We can plant millions of seeds. There is no way to stay aggressively angry after doing something genuinely good.
Our ability to make intelligent decisions decreases when overcome by anger and fear. We can learn to be greater than those we are afraid of as opposed to turning into them. We can educate ourselves and find the will to understand what threatens us. Then perhaps, we will actually solve the problem and not mask it with hate while we hide…miserably, in our “safe” fortresses. These will only become prisons and later graves unless we realize that the threat is within us and cannot be escaped. It can only be overcome.
We are very capable of doing amazing things individually. Most people are truly good and want more than anything to stay compassionate in any circumstance. We need to learn not to lose that part of us when we assemble to react. We cannot be intimidated into mob mentality by a trigger happy media any longer. We will eventually become soulless, aimless, angry, and blinded by our hate. Zombies; while this is an entertaining idea as a means for our demise, by continuing on our current path it is a far more plausible end to our existence than we realize…….;-)