Stop letting it make decisions for you.
The world we live in, here in the first quarter of the 21st century, is a scary place. As I write this the news is constantly talking about the “Coronavirus” and how many people may or may not have died from it. There’s also fear of the US going to war with Iran at any moment, the constant shadow of terrorist attacks, school shootings that happen almost daily…
The world is, objectively, scary.
All living creatures are wired to feel fear. Fear is a natural reaction to the things in our scary world. When we hear about things like a potentially fatal virus spreading, fear is a natural response. I would even say fear is a healthy response. Fear is what makes us run away from a burning building (unless it’s your job to put out the fire, then fear is what makes you choose safe options while putting it out.) It tells you to back away from the snarling dog, leave the rattlesnake alone, and keep a safe distance from an erratic driver on the freeway.
Fear is a normal, healthy, response to danger.
But fear also lies. Fear, if we let it, will tell you to be scared of things that you shouldn’t be scared of, or it will tell you to scared for the wrong reason, or, in the worst case, it will tell you the only way to stop being afraid is to stop being.
Fear is a liar.
And to make matters worse, some people know how to twist those lies into even more fear, and more lies.
All of us have an experience with a fear lie. Maybe it was when you were a kid and fear told you that while you were laying in bed at night the pile of clothes on the floor was actually a kid-eating monster. Or as a teenager it told you that new kid with the burn scars on his face had a disease that was contagious, or it told you not to take that college course because it was going to be hard and you’d fail. But of course the clothes were just clothes, the kid with the scars was a great guy that liked poetry, and the college course would have led you down an amazing new career path.
In our interactive-media saturated world we are told to be afraid of a lot of things. If you open facebook or twitter right now someone is telling the world to be afraid of vaccines, someone else is saying to be afraid of gluten, maybe a news outlet is telling you to be afraid of your neighbors who came from Mexico. We are presented with literally hundreds of reasons to be afraid every moment.
And unfortunately, too many of us listen to the lies fear tells us and we make poor choices. Worse, groups of people are making fear-based decisions that affect all of us. The fear of vaccines has groups petitioning legislators to enact laws that could potentially endanger our schools and other public places. Fear of crime or ‘others’ has gun-rights advocates pushing for looser laws that put more guns on the streets. Fear of immigrants has us building walls.
So what are we, people of sound mind and body, to do with fear and the lies it tells?
Over and over again, God or an angel, or some other message from Above tells people “Fear Not”. Some say the Bible uses the phrase “Fear Not” or “Do Not Be Afraid” 365 times. I haven’t checked myself to see if that’s true, but it does seem to come up often when you read the Bible. It is arguably the most repeated command in the Biblical text.
Now I’m not implying we should just ‘turn off’ our sense of fear as if we are robots that can just flip some switches and change how we feel, but I do think that we need to learn to manage our fears and learn when it is, in fact, lying to us.
Like when those new neighbors move in and they speak a language you don’t and maybe they wear strange headwear. Fear, especially fear stoked by some media outlets, will tell you they’re dangerous, to warn your other neighbors about them, to keep your guns close when they’re home…
But if you stop, see the lies, and actually MEET your new neighbors, you can stop fear from making you do something stupid. You might just find a new best friend.
But HOW? HOW do you just “stop being afraid”?
That’s the crux of it, isn’t it? Fear is a natural reaction. We’re wired to be afraid at the appropriate times. Except now in our information-overloaded society it’s hard to know just when the appropriate time IS. We’re no longer stalked by saber-tooth cats nor do we have to fight off neighboring tribes trying to take our grain stores. But our brains might have the same reaction when we hear about a shooting in a neighboring town.
As such it’s really REALLY hard to just “fear not”.
And honestly you shouldn’t aim for ‘no more fear ever’. That’s not the goal, but you can fear LESS by learning to “trust”.
The opposite of fear isn’t bravery, it’s trust. Bravery is what makes firefighters go into a burning building even though they are still afraid of pain and death from fire. Trust is what will lead you to meet those different new neighbors because you don’t HAVE to be afraid of them.
But how? How do you just start trusting?
All I can tell you is my own experience. It’s not a magic trick, nor is it just a matter of flipping a switch in your mind. It took some work.
Some years ago I was a member of what is, unfortunately, a typical evangelical Christian church. Upper-middle class, entirely caucasian, conservative Republican, pro-life, believes the Bible is inerrant.
From this church I learned fear. I was new to my faith – or rather newly returned to it, and we joined this church because it was supposed to be like the one in our hometown. They were part of the same ‘non-denominational’ denomination. But unlike the hometown church, this one didn’t teach love, the parables of Jesus, or the Sermon on the Mount. They taught “God wants you to keep what you have”, “God blessed you so you better appreciate it by protecting it”. “They” are coming and they don’t believe as you do so be prepared.
No, I can’t point you to an exact sermon that said exactly that, but over the years that message was just subtly injected into everything. Purity rings, because ‘they’ are coming for your daughter, so you, the man of the house, better be ready. ‘They’ are coming for your sons through Internet porn, so you better be ready. God loves your American job, so you better be ready for those coming from elsewhere to take it.
It wasn’t until we moved again that I realized how badly this had seeped into my brain. And how I had perpetuated that line of thinking by the radio shows I listened to, by the Bible study group materials I used, by 100 tiny things I didn’t even realize were part of the problem.
So I started turning things off. I turned off conservative Christian talk radio and turned on music that made me happy (in my case, 80s pop like Toto and Duran Duran). I “turned off” the books I was reading and chose others with a more loving point of view. And I began to meet people. Just started saying hi with a fake smile on my face. Soon the smile wasn’t fake.
Now that’s ME. How do you do it? I don’t know. But I would suggest start turning things off.
What are your thoughts on fear?