Fear has the power to overtake us.
In fact, I think more than anything what our country and our world is dealing with today is an epidemic of fear. It’s a virus that has infected us all. Everywhere I look I just see fear – the news, the Internet, television, billboards, social media…the most fearful place I experience regularly is Facebook. Even the speech that I hear us speak towards one another is full of fear, and it is no longer just in private that we hold these conversations with one another, but I hear them spoken out loud in public.
Just the other day while at a workshop on migration and refugees, I experienced a scene where a woman got offended by the presenter. The woman stood up and began to berate the presenter, quite literally yelling at her in the middle of this public forum with 20 other people looking on. She gave the presenter a two-minute ‘dressing down.’ This woman was angry, but, underneath it all, I believe she was filled to the brim with fear. After her ‘speech,’ the presenter thanked her for sharing her opinion and then tried to engage her in dialogue. Not even one sentence into the presenter’s response, the woman walked out of the room, not allowing for any dialogue or conversation, even as many of us in the room were calling for her to stay and engage in conversation. I have to add that this was a church sponsored workshop. Everyone there belonged to the same church denomination. The church most certainly is not immune to this fear, but it actually perpetuates fear in a very real way. Sadly, this experience is not rare. I believe we are getting conditioned towards experiencing these types of interactions. They are becoming normal.
Everywhere I look everything is saturated in fear. Fear of change. Fear of the other. Fear of losing oneself. Fear for our families, our loved ones, our country. Fear of changing ideals. Fear of losing power, status, and position. And this fear binds us.
It makes us small.
We retreat inside of ourselves thinking we will be safe inside the fortified walls of our box that we have fashioned. And we think as long as we keep everything out that we will be safe and secure. Stronger borders do not create safer people, just as more guns do not create more security. Not only does it create an environment that threatens real safety and security, but it imprisons us. It is living bound by fear.
And the fear is choking us.
It is boiling over. Do you know what fear boiling over creates?
Fear creates hate, plain and simple. We entrench ourselves so deeply that we dehumanize the other and hate arises. The truth is that it has gotten so out of hand that we cannot even have civil conversation anymore let alone debates about issues that truly matter. Not in families, not in classrooms, not in churches, and certainly not in public spaces without hate being spewed from every side. Honestly, as a 9, it makes it almost impossible for me to want to try to have a substantive conversation, because I know it will lead to some conflict.
We are so incredibly polarized today. It isn’t that having differing ideas or opinions is bad. That isn’t it at all. We are all unique, with unique perspectives and experiences that make us who we are in this moment, at this time. We could learn so much from one another if we could only have a conversation. But we cannot even have a conversation. No dialogue. No learning. No growing. The only thing I see happening is entrenchment.
Our fear dictates our beliefs and opinions, and it’s perpetuated by the advertising and media we surround ourselves with. We entrench deeper and deeper until we can no longer recognize someone with a differing perspective as a human being. Our walls and defenses are firmly in place, and the ‘other’ has been designated an enemy. So instead of engaging with someone that thinks differently than we do, we attack. We use anything we can to tear down their personhood and their being. It leads to the injustices and sins that are Racism, Sexism, Classism, Homophobia, and on and on. We degrade our fellow human beings by hurling slurs and insults at them, tearing them down both verbally and physically. We tear them down in order to, what – build ourselves up? Justify our own personhood? Make ourselves feel more human or more worthy? Some of that is true, but the root of it all, in my opinion, is…
If we engage with the other, we might change. Our views might change. Our opinions might change. My being might change. Who I think I am might change. The constructs that I have found my self-worth and identity in might change, and then what?! Who am I then?! Change is damn scary!
And so we entrench…further and further.
We see the results all around us. The polarization is everywhere. Left/Right. Democrat/Republican. Gay/Straight. Black/White. Citizen/Refugee. Old/Young. Baby Boomer/Millennial. Christian/Muslim. The results are a maze of walls that we have constructed in order to keep human beings who are different away from us.
Unless we can find a way to truly see one another from the commonality that we are ALL beloved creatures, it will only get worse. And that is my fear. A real fear. I fear for my children. I fear for the church. I fear for the country. I fear for the world. It paralyzes me. How do we move forward? Is there a way?
One step at a time.
If we can summon our courage and open our fortified gates, lower the drawbridge, and step forward out of our box towards the other, I have hope. If we can have true conversations and dialogue with people who disagree that doesn’t end in shouting matches and belittling one another, I have hope. If we can begin to build relationships with others who look, act, believe, and think differently than we do, I have hope.
Fear cannot be conquered by retreating towards the safety of the known. Fear cannot be overcome by entrenching ourselves trying to feel safe and secure. Fear can only be defeated by stepping forward, towards that which you fear – recognizing that fear, owning that fear, claiming that fear, and then stepping forward telling that fear…
You will control me no longer!!
We need to be a people that builds bridges, sisters and brothers, not walls. Jesus was a bridge builder, THE bridge builder. If I have learned anything from Jesus, it’s that bridges are not built with fear, hate, judgment, or condemnation. Bridges are built with love, humility, grace, mercy, and service. Bridges are built through relationships. Bridges are built by stepping forward, reaching out, and openly embracing the unknown. Bridges are built when we are open to change.
(This is the second of a three part series on Fear. You can find part 1 HERE)
©2018 Derek Harkins