To say we live in troubled times may be stating the obvious, though for many in our part of the world, it seems like business as usual. Yet, it would not take much scratching of the surface to uncover that ‘fear’ of multiple sorts loom shroud-like over most of us. Gandhi was right to observe that “the enemy is fear”, not hate. There is the fear created
and reported through the media; the fear of the unknown and what the future holds; fear of an unseen bogey-person, fear of the threat to our economic well-being (not enough to go around), fear that grows into a suspicion of the ‘other’; fear of those who are different from us. Advertising, political agendas, news coverage and social media all send the constant message that people should be afraid – that is very afraid.
It is a long list. Fear though, if left to its own imagination, only grows and turns us into what we do not wish to be. It distorts the goodness in us and the way we see others and their goodness. It feeds prejudices in unhelpful ways. Studies have shown that fear is the enemy of reason – distorting emotions and perceptions and often resulting in poor decisions. Research has also shown that fear breeds causes more violence, mental illness and trauma, social disintegration, job failure, loss of workers’ rights etc and that pervasive fear ultimately paves the way for an accelerating authoritarian society with increased police power, legally codified oppression, invasion of privacy, social controls, social anxiety and a more vulnerable society.
Take, for instance, what is currently referred to as the migrant/refugee crisis at the gates of Europe (as only one example)! Look closer at what drives the responses from governments or groups of citizens or the media? Would I be wrong to suggest that it is largely fear be it religious, cultural, political, economic, security, sexual, as well as fear of the ‘other’? More and more head-teachers and experts for instance will point to ‘fear’ as a contributing factor to the demands placed on schools to be policing students/pupils for terrorist inclinations. And the progression of so-called enlightened democracies towards ‘security states’ is located on instilling fear in us to control our behaviour and collect information. Hence, it follows that the operational ethos or the mind of the ‘security state’ mind is paranoid and capable of creating fearful situations out of propaganda and mis/disinformation.
If, as a Japanese proverb puts it, ‘fear is only as deep as the mind allows’ then our current fears – real, imagined, constructed or imposed – should not be lightly dismissed. Those who would wish to manipulate and stay in power will continue to feed and deploy fear and one of the ways they are currently doing that is to shape and control the language for discourse on the public square.
We need to locate the fears and the methods deployed, bring them to the surface, understand where they come from, how they are fed and nurtured, and urgently consider what we need to do to exorcise them from out life together. Otherwise, we all end up living impoverished lives. The way of God who offers of full life for all demands nothing less. Walls of separation, creating of fears to control and manipulate, and habits of stinginess are contrary to the Jesus way. No wonder Martin Luther King arrived at the view that he must “stick with love” as fear or hate “is too great a burden to bear”.
© jagessar February 17 2016