We were driving to Lake Lure, NC, this past Saturday and drove through Chimney Rock. I stopped at a pedestrian crossing and right in front of me was a 60-something white male displaying a holstered handgun on his hip. I got a big whiff of Civil War in the air!
We live in a country of fear, and it is escalating. Fear is in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and all the screens we scan. We are oppressed by fear. It’s the monkey on our backs; the weight on our shoulders. Thus, we fear one another, we fear our leaders, we fear government, we fear business, we fear our shadow!
French writes about malice and disdain. I believe shame researcher Brene Brown would tell us malice and disdain like shame are rooted in fear.
“Malice and disdain make a person vulnerable to misinformation. Misinformation then builds more malice and disdain and enhances the commercial demand for, you guessed it, more misinformation. Rinse and repeat until entire media empires exist to supply that demand.”
Fear keeps us from sharing our vulnerability. If you learn of my weakness, I fear you will take advantage of me.
Fear is the foundation of distrust. We are consumed by distrust. Distrust feeds denial.
Fear is the foundation of cults in which the cult’s leader is seen as all-powerful, can do no wrong, and is not held accountable. A cult perpetuates us versus them mentality and establishes the binary, ‘you are with us or against us.’ Questioning, curiosity, and open-mindedness are discouraged and even punished.
Fear is destroying our democracy, which thrives on compromise. There is no compromise these days. We see opponents, people who think and believe differently from us as enemies, socialists, Marxists, sluts, nasty, snowflakes, and retards. While French writes: “With rising hatred, I’m seeing a rise in purely destructive spirit, especially on the right.” Just to be fair, I also have seen this behavior on the left.
Fear has turned relationships into transactions rather than transformations. Transactional behavior follows law, policy, and tradition rather than adjusting and changing. Transactional behavior is about maintaining the status quo rather than looking for opportunity. Unlike transactional behavior, transformational behavior deals more effectively with the VUCAs – volatility, uncertainty, confusion, and ambiguity which are the headwinds in our face today.
Fear has thrown ethics, values, and principles ‘under the bus.’ We are consumed in the short-run, individualism, and loyalty over truth. The Golden Rule is on life-support. After all, the Golden Rule challenges self-serving interests.
I have Jewish friends who fear living in the United States. They look at me as a Christian and point out how Christianity is dividing our country. Christianity is fueling fear rather than love. They say that “love thy neighbor as thyself” is a sham. Many Christians don’t walk-the-talk of Christ’s teachings. These friends are looking to move to Portugal (which is 2nd in the world in COVID vaccinations at 85% while the United States is 46th with 55% as of 10/3/2021.)
I have POC friends who are considering moving to Spain or Canada to escape racism. (Spain has one of the lowest costs of living in the world and treats BIPOC much better than here in the US according to them. Canada celebrates multiculturalism.)
So how do we overcome this epidemic of fear?
South Africa is working to overcome hate. Perhaps we should take some lessons from them. When South Africa rewrote their constitution in 1996, it sought input from the public. They got over 2 million responses! The opening line of their constitution reads: “We, the people of South Africa, recognize the injustices of our past.” The US Constitution focuses on government structure while the South African Constitution focus is on human rights, including the right to dignity and respect.
We need to learn about our history, our past beyond what is white-washed in high school. I read Boston College American History Professor Heather Cox Richardson who publishes daily, Letters from an American. She schools me about the history of this country I never learned. She continuously reveals how we fail to learn lessons from our past. She adds substance to French’s OP-ED as well as Robert Kagan’s OP-ED on our Constitutional Crisis Is Already Here.
Finally, we must mindfully get out of our comfort zones, including our echo chambers, and seek to have hard conversations with others who think and believe differently than we do. When we hear something that is contrary to our belief and stokes our fear, ask a question rather than respond with our point of view, label, or shut down. Stay engaged. Stand in their shoes! Practice empathy and compassion. Find common values and principles.
When I learned the process for identifying core values, discovering purpose, developing a mission statement, and creating strategic plans, I was taught EVERY strategic plan has the same mega starting point: What kind of world do we want to create for tomorrow’s child? As the grandfather of a six-month-old, this challenge has become a living challenge. How about you?