“Be afraid. Be very afraid. But not for the reasons you might think. We are living in precipitous times. We are in danger of losing our humanity through fear. Fear of what and who we do not know.”
I agree with her. The greatest weapon in terrorism is the fear it engenders in the target community – fear that triggers behaviours that destroy the fabric of what holds a community together.
I have observed a profound change in Canada and the USA since 9/11. I was in Africa at the time and my first words after watching the CNN report on the first plane crashing, with the smoke billowing, and then seeing the second plane crashing, live as it happened, any notion of a lost pilot in a small craft accidentally hitting a tall building GONE ….my words were “the world will never be the same again.” I couldn’t have foretold how it would be different, but when I returned to North America in 2010 the difference was glaringly obvious.
Fear was palpable all over the place even as people were carrying on with their normal lives. The cocky arrogance of the Americans was gone, replaced with a nasty “if you’re not for us you’re against us” mentality. And in Canada, we were focusing on being Canadian and developing the tar sands. Our government was making it more difficult for new Canadians to immigrate here, and even us old immigrants with our bright and shiny Canadian passports felt under threat of losing our right to return to our adopted country if we were out of the country too long. In Nova Scotia, people from Kentville were astonished that I lived in Halifax because it had become “so dangerous”.
I grew up with fear, as a child of Apartheid in South Africa.
I fully believed that we would one night have to made a mad dash for the airport to avoid being massacred, and always felt safe that my parents had so many friends “overseas” so somebody would take us in. And so I recognise fear when I witness it.
Even my Canadian phone company uses it now – I recently cancelled my landline as a useless and expensive outdated resource – the response was “Reconsider: It’s not safe without a landline. You can’t rely on your cellphone, because say you have an emergency and there’s a power outage and the phone’s battery is flat.” I named it and said “selling phone services through fear-mongering is unethical”. It was clearly outside the script. The person didn’t understand, gave up; cancelled my phone, as requested, no doubt getting ready to frighten the next techno-savvy little old lady.
In my conflict management work I often find myself talking about the primitive brain as the source of our survival instincts, and culture as the way we give expression to them. Fear is primordial – it is critical for survival. However….
Looking at life through a survival lens is a whole lot healthier than looking at it through a fear lens.
Survival is about seeking and pursuing opportunities along with assessing risk and making choices. Fear is about hanging on to what is familiar and what feels safe – sometimes irrationally so, as what was safe a hundred years ago may not be so anymore.
The human propensity and need to form communities and to create rule of behaviour in those communities is also embedded deep in our primitive psyche – maybe even in our DNA. Yet, the nature of the communities we form differ spectacularly and our values – the rules by which we recognise who’s in and who’s out, vary in puzzling complexity – THAT is culture – our conscious human creations, from our modern human brains.
The culture of “everything is possible”; the pioneer spirit and all that, has, in the 21st Century, thanks to 9/11 and the political responses to it, transformed into fear, mistrust, closing ranks, increased labelling of them/us. There’s an epidemic of young people with anxiety disorders and equally one of otherwise healthy and privileged people on long term stress leave, eating up the insurance monies we so willingly pay. And then there is the increase in bullying behaviour and the insane pattern of drinking hard and fast favoured by so many young college-aged women: drinking to silence that inner voice of fear and despair. All of this reflects the pathology of our society as it is right now.
We’re not all equally afflicted but our lives are all affected.
I like the admonishments in Kathy’s article of how to push fear back into its proper place.
The people who are open to seeing the world differently and who want to change will read/hear her message. Some of us are already doing these things – seeking new experiences, being open to conversations with people from elsewhere, and travelling further afield. The people who are already in the choke-hold of fear won’t hear the message. Instead, they will find comfort in following increasingly fascist leadership. They don’t attend motivational talks about gratitude and hope and openness – how do we get through to them? (This is not a rhetorical question – let me know what you think.)