What Are We Afraid Of?

Whether we’re fully conscious of it or not – we all experience fear.  Identifying and articulating why we are fearful is something that many of us are uncomfortable doing and refuse to address out loud.  It’s that gut sense which kicks in when something unsettling enters the periphery – awakening our recognition, but hesitant to acknowledge – that is the power of fear.

History has demonstrated very clearly the danger in not naming and exploring why and where our fears originate.  Left unchecked, fear becomes a dangerous catalyst for a very destructive and undesirable type of change to occur.  Whether it's the fear of change, fear of another or fear of the unknown - this fear, unaddressed and unacknowledged, can all too easily turn to hate.  Facing and minimizing hate means embracing our own fears; fears that each of us has as a result of our own lived experiences and what our media perpetuates.

Some citizens and leaders have that figured out, but hate is still a very real threat to our nation right now. This goes beyond the obvious hate crimes that have gained news coverage over the past year. 

I look at party leaders who have allowed fear to relinquish their pretense of dignity in order to pass legislation that only feeds a short-term gain and (they hope) keeps them in office.  

I read with sadness the stories of bullying, driven by fear, that go far beyond the confines of the school playground. I’ve witnessed fear seeping into adult disagreements; in a flash of frustration and fear that their beliefs won’t win the day, hate erupts, consuming rationality. What remains of the discourse are hurt, anger, distance, and even more fear.  The cycle continues and what results is a community, a state and a nation who cannot hear one another because of fear.

Thanks to the cyclical arguments in play today, there is no apparent shortage of fear to fan the flames of hate. This fear is the root of our “fight or flight” instinct, but over the ages has somehow warped into a dangerous impetus. For the good of our collective future, this has got to end. 

Think about some of the fears articulated lately, like: “No gun control legislation is going to work, so it’s just a waste of time to try.” Or, “Healthcare is so complex and so expensive, it’s too much work to make it simpler and more affordable.”  Or “Why do we need to take care of those people?  They don’t really belong here anyway.” And let’s not forget the classic, “There’s no real evidence to prove that climate change is man-made.” 

Here in our own community, we’ve seen this kind of fear-driven rhetoric that has deepened divisions and eroded some of the bedrock that makes our community such a wonderful place to live and work. I have been heartened to hear from people throughout our community who have supported my unequivocal stance against hate in our own backyards.  There is an ever-growing contingent of individuals who are ready to move forward from those who are allowing fear to dominate the discourse throughout the St. Croix Valley.

Giving into fear and letting hate win is a losing proposition. President Franklin Roosevelt was spot-on when he declared, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” It will never go away, this fear. And yet each of us has the agency to determine for ourselves the role that we will allow fear to play in our lives.  I believe we must repurpose our fears if we are going to move forward. 

It is no secret that I am hate-intolerant.  That doesn’t make me immune from fear, but it makes functioning within the presence of fear easier. The alternative of letting fear lead to hate is not – and never will be - an acceptable end to me. I know fear when I see it – and that’s when I embrace it, and own the fear before it owns my mission to make this world better for all.