Fear is a normal human instinct that serves to keep us alert and safe when it is present in healthy doses. Unfortunately we humans all too often obsess over our fears and turn them into anxieties that crowd our minds with dark possibilities. The worries over Covid 19 combined with civil unrest and a national election have collided into a kind of atomic bomb of concern that is affecting people in different ways depending on their personal experiences.
Appearances are often misleading because there seems to be a continuum of beliefs about our present situation that run the gamut from near inability to function normally to outright disbelief that there is any real danger. As our society navigates through the daily updates on numbers of sick and dying from the virus and the status of protests and demands we each react in slightly differing ways that eventually seem to gel into associations and groups. Because it is in our natures to protect ourselves from whatever we deem to be problematic we end up seeing those outside of our own belief system as being part of the problem. We worry that the ranks of those who dissent from our way of viewing the situation will swell and change our world in questionable ways and so we attempt to change minds even as we realize that the only people listening already agree with us. It becomes a zero sum game that all too often results in the loss of friendships and the surprise that our relationships were so fragile that a national crisis tore them asunder with little effort.
In truth we miss the reality that everyone is actually afraid, even those who boast of their daring and appear to ignore precautions. Each of us is demonstrating what most bothers us and political forces are playing on our deep seated worries. There are those who do not deal well with death and suffering and those who fear changes in society. There are those who fear loss of economic well being and those who fear that changes will not be enough to rid society of injustice. There are those who fear that our country is not as exceptional as we once believed and those who fear that our exceptionalism is being destroyed. The list of fears is too weighty and complex to describe in a single tract but it is enough to divide us if we allow it to happen.
I am reminded of a time when I was beginning a new job at a new school. I was rather nervous because I only knew the principal and two women who had decided to move to the campus with me. I was slated to speak to the faculty on my first day and I stewed over what to say and how to appear to them. The principal had warned me that the environment was tense and fractured so I chose my words and even my wardrobe with great care. I wore a nondescript black pantsuit on which I placed a good luck pin that a very dear friend had given me the weekend before. It was a gold star that she said would remind me that I was going to do healing work and that God and people who knew me would be wishing me all the best.
Things didn’t go as well as I had hoped. There was great tension among the members of the faculty and much suspicion of who I was and why I was there. I did my best to be friendly and I indeed found kindred spirits with whom I am still friends to this very day but there was a rather large contingent of people who were quite obviously wary of me so it became my goal to find out what fears were in their hearts and why they viewed me as a threat.
It took a great deal of time and patience but by listening rather than lecturing I began to break through the icy reception I had received but there were still those who held back from accepting me as anything but a potential enemy. Nonetheless I persisted in efforts to hear their voices and one day as one of the teachers most opposed to me vented her frustrations in a tirade of anger I suddenly felt tears streaming down my cheeks, not because I felt threatened but because I truly understood the source of her pain. I took her hands and told her how sorry I was and then she exclaimed, “Then why did you choose to put us down with that stupid star pinned to your chest like you were the new sheriff in town? Why did you humiliate us before you even knew us?”
All too often we see or don’t see another person’s reality. We form judgements from our own experiences and sometimes we are completely off base. When we see glaring differences that seem to be at odds with what we believe to be right we would do well to patiently set our preconceived notions aside and attempt to get to the heart of the fears driving each of us. We may find that we want the same things but have conflicting ideas about how to get there.
Each of us have triggers that raise our worst fears to the surface of our minds. Losing people through death or misunderstanding are two of mine. Unwillingness to Ignore the pain and suffering around me is another. When I react to the issues facing us those fears direct me either consciously or subconsciously just as the fears each person determines how he/she will behave. We all worry about losing something whether it be a loved one, a job, a home, a freedom or an election. If we bear that in mind when someone is ranting or seemingly ignoring the gravity of a situation we may be able to finally understand. It will be in that understanding that we achieve the common ground that we need to finally be able to work together.