Thursday, October 13, 2016

Fear Itself

I know a lot about fear. I've experienced a lot of it over the course of my life from the time I was a young child, all the way up to last night and even this morning. Some of it has been in response to things that would make anyone afraid, some of it hasn't been.

I hear a lot of people talking about how we're angry as a country, about how Donald Trump has tapped into people's rage. If I have learned anything over the past several years as I've sought to understand more about my own anger (which I definitely have ample supply of at times), it's that anger is almost always a sign of fear. Anger goes on the offensive, shame goes on the defensive, and at the root of both is fear. Fear that there isn't enough, or worse, that I am not enough.

I don't think America is angry - I think America is afraid. And what's so incredibly heartbreaking to me, is that rather than speaking to our fear - our politicians and media and even in our interactions with one another, we are feeding off of and catering to our fear, all under the guise of justified anger.

I can say that I am angry Donald Trump promoted the sexual assault of women, but really I'm more afraid that so many people minimized it as locker room banter or 'guy talk', and I'm afraid of the implications of watching a presidential debate being the catalyst for needing to explain sexual assault to my 5 and 6 year old. And I'm afraid I'm not enough to change it.

I can say that I am angry Hillary Clinton seems to have gotten away with an incredible amount of lies and deceit through her time in political office, but I'm really more afraid that this massive experiment of a truly diverse democracy may in fact be a sham, and that maybe George Orwell's predictions weren't so far off. And I'm afraid I'm not enough to change it.

I can say that I am angry the media continues to feed my fear by running sensational headlines, showing me gruesome images zoomed in on the most acute moments of human tragedy so I am unable to see the immense goodness that permeates the world, but really I'm more afraid of the implications of having such biased media that I have nowhere to turn for neutral facts and am subsequently somewhat unable to actually form my own personal perspective. And I'm afraid I'm not enough to change it.

I can say I am angry that our economy isn't in a better place - aren't we supposed to be the greatest nation in the world? But really, I am afraid there won't be jobs for my children, or maybe even for me or that when I get to the age of 65, I won't be able to retire because life will have cost too much. And I'm afraid I'm not enough to change it.

I can say I am angry about the rising cost of health care, and the corruption of our taxes, but really I am afraid that when I get the cancer diagnosis, the money won't be there, or when my son crosses the road at the unprotected pedestrian cross walk at the top of the hill he'll get hit by a car because the taxes I paid weren't used to actually impact my neighborhood. And I'm afraid I'm not enough to change it.

I can say that I'm angry terrorism is on the rise in our country, but really I'm afraid that despite the fact our country spreads from sea to shining sea, somehow so much hatred has been generated the threat now comes not only from without but from within. And I'm afraid I'm not enough to change it.

I can say I'm angry there is so much hatred everywhere, so much divisiveness, but really I'm afraid that what I thought was true about this country, that's it's a place that values liberty and justice for all, isn't actually true. And I'm afraid I'm not enough to change it.

I can say that I am angry. And I am. But I'm really afraid. And maybe, just maybe, you are too.

Here's the thing about living in a heightened state of fear, which I think our country as a whole has been doing for the past decade and a half more than even before - it turns on something in our brains that tells us threat is always imminent. This guarantee of imminent threat does something else to us: it's called hyper-vigilance. I know about hyper-vigilance because I live in it almost all the time - it means everything could almost always go wrong at every given moment.  It means it's not a matter of 'if', it's a matter of 'when' and 'what'.

The muscle tightness in my chest is a sign I'm having a heart attack, the knock at the door I'm not expecting probably means my husband got hit by a bus while riding his bike to work, the phone call from the unidentified number means there is a shooter at my sons elementary school, a dog howling means the big earthquake is going to hit in a matter of seconds. It's not 'if', it's just 'when' and 'what' and my best option is to always be prepared. For everything. Which means I have to know everything. And can only trust myself. But I'm responsible for everyone I love. But I can only love so many, so I better love those who are the least threat to me, because then I have a little more capacity - to prevent all of the 'whats' and 'whens'.

Hyper-vigilance is exhausting, because it is never satisfied that the threat is gone. It is always seeking to find the threat, minimize the threat, control the situation, and identify the next threat. The other thing hyper-vigilance tells us to do is protect what's ours, circle the wagons, identify the threat and the enemy and do everything we can to keep them out. Hyper-vigilance drives us straight into the arms of those who are most like us, and fixates on any narrative, news story, or situation that helps us identify an external threat and tells us how to stop it. Hyper-vigilance isolates us, and then it destroys us because the real threat isn't from out there, it's from inside our very own minds, hearts, and souls.

The challenge of humanity is that our mammalian nature tells us to self-preserve, but the reality of our inevitable interactions with other humans mandates we pursue the preservation of all, or we'll all be destroyed.

We are doing this as a country. And it has to stop. Why? For this one simple reason: fear begets anger which begets going on the offensive which begets isolation which begets hatred which begets destruction. And once that cycle takes it full course, we really do have something to fear - ourselves driven by fear.

This maddening cycle will continue until men and women say enough is enough and begin jumping off the wheel. The good news? You can jump off at any time in the cycle - truly, you can.

How? Stop feeding your fear. Stop listening to the news all the time. Stop reading only the headlines that make your heart race a little bit harder and instead read the headlines that make you smile. Stop looking at your phone, and look out the window. Stop trying to fight for every cause and just pick the one that makes your heart soar when you see the smallest snippets of success. Stop talking only to people who agree with you, and instead listen to the people you don't understand, because they are just afraid, too.

Stop listening to the voices telling you that you have to vote for either major political party or you're throwing your vote away. That's a lie. Stand for what you believe in - not against what you hate. If 40% of the American population votes for 3rd party or write-in candidates that will make a HUGE statement to our politicians and to the world. Sure, maybe one of the main political parties will win this time around, and many people would agree that's not ideal, but next time there will be hope that perhaps democracy can work.

Stop obsessing over what you can't control - you can't control how the state of Florida votes, whether or not we put troops on the ground in Syria, or if your public parks are turned into campgrounds for the homeless. You can (and in my opinion, should) call your elected councilmen, mayors, governors, and other politicians to let them know where you stand. But then - let it go.

Instead, turn your eyes to what you can influence & control - your interactions with your neighborhood, your family, your work place, your bus commute, your church or mosque or temple, your interactions with every human in every place you go today. You can control that.

You can smile, at every single person you see. You can introduce yourself to the parent at your kids school, or the new colleague, or the woman in your zumba class who you at a glance have very little in common with. And then invite them over for dinner. You can text your neighbors who you aren't sure like you to ask if they need anything from Target when you're running errands. You can slow down for pedestrians and smile at them when they walk slowly, instead of honking. You can tell your bus driver thank you. You can stop and offer an encouraging word to the mom in the grocery store struggling to manage her 3 crying kids, 40 rolls of toilet paper, 6 packs of diapers, and 2 bottles of wine. You can put down your phone and read to your kids. You can stop reading the news and look into your partners eyes and ask them how they really are. You can say thank you to the colleague who did that little thing they were supposed to do but didn't really want to. Just tell them thank you.

When you see someone marginalized, stand in the gap and show them love instead. When someone yells at you, or cuts you off in traffic, or says something rude to you respond with gentleness and self-control. When you you are marginalized or threatened or even wounded (because you will be), take a deep breath and press into change, find the sources of strength and love around you - don't give into fear.

You have SO much control. Is something going to go wrong today? yeah, absolutely. Is it going to be catastrophic? Sure, maybe, for some of us. But probably not. Is whatever goes wrong going to pass? 100% yes.

Is something going to go right today? Absolutely. Is it going to be the best thing in your life? Sure, maybe, for some of us. But probably not. Is whatever goes right going to pass? 100% yes.

And you'll remember both - but you only get to sink your teeth into one. You simply cannot live with a heart of fear and a heart of love at the same time. You cannot commit to being all in and simultaneously try to run all the way out. You just can't. There are seasons for both - sometimes you need to let yourself feel afraid, and just cry, and hole up with people and in places you feel safe. But you should only do that so you can recover and heal and learn and then go right back out and love even harder than before.

Both of our major political parties, and every single media source I've read would like you to believe the answer to your fear is in anger, defensiveness, policy, or some other black and white easy to find answer. It's not. The answer to your fear is Love. Perfect love drives out fear - it always has, it always will. That's really the only way it works, and the good news is that when love begins to drive out fear it radically transforms you, me, and everyone else around us.

And the even better news? Fear doesn't ever drive out perfect love. It can bang it up, and knock you down, and discourage almost every last shred of light out of your soul until it seems dormant - but it will never fully drive perfect love out. A single light can shine bright in the darkness, and no matter how thick the darkness, the light won't be put out.

Don't let yourself be told otherwise - you have the capacity for perfect love within you, and miraculously, you have the capacity to spread it to others and to awaken the perfect love in them. It starts in the littlest of ways, and the littlest of ways often make the biggest impact because they can sink through the smallest of cracks in the hardest of hearts.  How do I know? Because in my moments of greatest fear, I've had the hardest of hearts - it was the only thing that made sense when I was trying to be my own protection. But the smallest acts of the greatest Love are what transformed me, and now I know the anecdote to fear (for I am still afraid every day), it's Love.

So, Love. Today. All day. This whole next tumultuous month and election season. Love. Speak for goodness, even if the catalyst for speaking up is the presence of hate. Don't just speak against hate - speak for love. No one is asking if something is wrong - we all know it is. People are asking where to look next, and the answer is, and always has been, to Love.

And no majority vote is needed for love to win. Love wins. With a single vote, it wins. Today I choose love. Not because I am not angry or afraid - I am both. But because I know love is the only answer to my fear. And I promise it is to yours, too. Give love, and receive it from others when they give it to you. It really is, profoundly, that simple.

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