Fear begins at our earliest age, in infancy and childhood, as a reaction to our helplessness to forces and events that surround and impact us. Somewhere along our way we suffer from real and perceived, physical and mental, hurts that condition us. Finally, we learn about the finality of death that ultimately awaits each of us – and brings worry and sadness to all those who love and seek to protect us. From all of these sources, fear thrives in the very foundation of our being.
Given the early age that fear is created, we likely have little choice about its being fundamental to our makeup. But if fear is a fixed given from which we may feel powerless, our response to it is decidedly variable and within a measure of our control. Each of us retains the right and the power to choose whether will we live a life of fear, be defined by fear, or be limited by fear. Or will we simply acknowledge that fear, and then move on and partake of much good that life has to offer? Not to live a reckless life, daring danger into our presence, ignoring our responsibilities to ourselves and to others. But to look our fears in the eye and move through them, knowing that the roll of the dice can turn out in many different ways. Our meeting with death will come when it is supposed to, even if it is a time not of our preferred choice.
If one chooses, one can certainly see much danger in one’s surroundings. Disease, drunk drivers, domestic and foreign terrorists, criminal violence, snooping governments, faulty construction, polluted food and waters, transportation accidents, etc. The potential dangers are endless. The average life expectancy continues to steadily increase from a century ago, but it is the unexpected and “innocent” deaths and injuries – e.g. the Boston Marathon bombings – that garner the headlines.
Unfortunately, as there are endless potential ways that our fears can be realized, there are also endless people who prey on those fears. Companies that sell goods and services to “protect” us from our fears coming true – even if they are highly unlikely events for us. Commentators who sell us ideas and literature – conspiracy theories, unproven dangers, racial / religious biases – all designed to affirm the correctness and righteousness of our fears. Politicians who capitalize on our fears in order to pass laws and advance their own power and political authority over us, while truth is sidelined as a casualty to our overreactions. We collectively spend billions of dollars, and allow people into our lives who do not serve us well, all because of our fears.
So we have politicians across many of our states building their reputations by appealing to our fears. Easy access to firearms is inexplicably made easier rather than harder as a response to firearm violence. North Carolina just approved allowing guns at public schools if locked in a car; and concealed weapons in bars “if the owner does not object.” What could possibly go wrong with these ideas?
Florida (and now other states are considering) passed something called a “Stand Your Ground” law. A law that overturns hundreds of years of legal precedent as well as our human progress towards becoming a “civilized society.” We have long been taught to first minimize damage in a threatening situation; if at all possible, to retreat if threatened. A violent response can only be a choice of last resort. Now in Florida, it is shoot first if you simply feel threatened, whether the threat is actually reasonable or justified or not. Then you can explain later, and with no punitive consequences. The law of the gunslinger used to be confined to “West of the Pecos.” Now it is open season for the quickest draw West of the Atlantic Coast.
Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African-American kid, was stalked by a white Hispanic man with a gun who had a history of looking to be a self-proclaimed vigilante hero in his neighborhood. He was a known trouble-rouser in the 911 emergency office who was told that night to cease following Trayvon and leave any problems to real police officers. But the stalker refused those instructions and continued his provocative pursuit, and came upon Trayvon and threatened him. These are the admitted facts in this case. In the ensuing confrontation, this acknowledged instigator shot Trayvon because HE felt threatened by the unarmed young man he had accosted. The armed instigator shot to kill because his unarmed defender tried to defend himself. If Trayvon had been armed and shot the man threatening him, would not Stand Your Ground have been his proper defense? But would a Florida jury have found a young, armed Black man innocent of killing a White adult?
It is madness. A madness I could never explain to my grandchildren. A madness I cannot explain, much less justify, to myself. This is where unmanaged fear takes us. Into a world turned upside down, turning back and feeding upon itself. Where we kill each other over religious differences, racial differences, economic differences, political differences – all the while proclaiming that we all want the right to be different and be protected to go our own way. We keep saying we need to talk about why we fear, why we hate, why we act against people who are different from us. Instead, yet another purveyor of hate walks free in the bright sun, his young victim buried in the darkness of the dirt. And countless more trigger-happy haters are now primed to follow his example.
God spare us from the zealots and the vigilantes. And from the politicians, businesses and organizers who thrive on our fears. And God spare us from ourselves when we succumb to their preying reach into our fears. What we fear becomes what fears us. What we hate becomes what hates us. We need to manage our reasonable fears, and reject our unreasonable fears and the dark beliefs and places to which they take us. Instead, we need to live openly and confidently from the better place that exists in our hearts.
©2013 Randy Bell