Saturday, September 21, 2019
Inspire! Topic: Fear
First, a word about our topic. We started with an entirely different schedule for our 5th season of Inspire! There are a lot of controversial topics in our culture right now and we wanted to demonstrate having respectful conversations about those topics.
Then we decided to go deeper. We decided we should start at the beginning – the reason there is so much conflict, controversy and division among us. We decided we needed to begin by exploring the emotions at the core of our disagreements – fear, anger and shame.
So today we begin with fear.
I’m sure we all have examples of times we or someone we love has been afraid. I remember getting a panicked phone call from my son Alex when he was 9 years old. He was so terrified that when I first answered my phone I couldn’t understand him through his heavy sobs.
It was during a week in June when he was spending time with his biological father. He had fallen asleep in his dad’s SUV and when he woke up he couldn’t find anybody. His fear was very real, growing since he learned about a girl who was dropped off at her grandparents’ home by her mother – a mother that never returned for her.
It turns out Alex’s dad was close by – not in the house where Alex looked, but in the shop his grandparents owned that was connected to the house. A more thorough search, a louder cry for help may have been all he needed to find what he was searching for – a sign of life, a sign of hope, proof that someone who loved him was nearby.
But he didn’t know that. He only knew gut-wrenching fear. And his answer was to call for “mom” the one person in the world that he believed could help in a time such as this.
In retrospect, Alex’ problem was relatively minor and his condition of fear quickly relieved – but from a 9-year-old perspective his sense of despair was no less acute than you and I have faced in our grown up world of death, loss, violence and fear that comes in my guises.
On the positive side, fear keeps us alive. It guides our flight or fight response and helps us avoid danger. It gives us heightened senses and heightened awareness. It keeps us alert, helps us make better decisions, and makes us better prepared.
But there is another side to fear that can keep us from doing things that would be rewarding and add to the quality of our life. When fear takes control, it can be utterly debilitating. Fear can paralyze us so that we don’t act at all. It can find us retreating into isolation and depression. Or it can lead us to acting out, expressing our fear in anger or hostility toward others or ourselves.
It’s my personal belief that we were a much more inclusive culture, embracing movements of peace, diversity, and inclusion. We were becoming cosmocentric. Then 911 happened. And of all the ways we could have reacted as a culture, we ended up retreating in fear. Building our walls of self protection, becoming more and more ethnocentric until today we find ourselves living in a culture of fear.
Leading us to our current environment in which there seems to be more reason for fear than ever! We are constantly bombarded by messages telling us that the world is not safe and that danger lurks around every corner. Sadly, we are often told that what we most need to fear is each other.
There is usually very little communication between people of divergent views, which only leads to more mistrust, misunderstanding and missed opportunities for healing. It is this awareness that can keep us from writing each other off and simply turning our backs on each other. Bearing this in mind, compassion – even and especially for those who disagree with us - is not only possible, it is the only viable response.
Compassion does not mean embracing a false unity or ignoring our differences. Instead, it moves us to lie down our own agenda in order to seek to follow the best outcome for us all. It means laying aside fear of the other to recognize our common desires and objectives and yes – our common fears. It is the practice of putting down our darts and arrows and resisting the temptation to claim our superiority over others.
Sometimes fear is warranted but often it is manufactured, presented with sensationalism, poignant bullet points, and a drive for ratings. Which means fear is ultimately a choice. At any given moment, we can choose to close in fear or open in love. Sometimes just realizing that we have for the moment closed down can prompt us to once more open to love. The simple act of reminding ourselves that love is real can help us rise above our self-preoccupation and understand what it is to embrace the teaching of the Tao teaching that tells us, “There is no greater illusion than fear.”
In my work at the Momentum Center, I hear almost every day of another crisis, another trauma, another request for resources and support. I am also reminded every day by my colleagues, our volunteers, and people like you who are willing to spend a fair share of your Saturday talking about fear, that we are not a people who live without hope.
And as we begin to trust more fully, we are called forth to be agents of hope for others. We are to be a witness for the pain and fear they carry. We are to be the voice of memory when others have forgotten that love is near.
After our panelists shared their information with us, we were prompted by questions for a small group discussion, and then also prompted with questions for a full room discussion on the matter.
Special thanks to all who helped contribute to this month’s Inspire! event! Music by the lovely Amanda Schwaninger!
Thank you to the Tri-Cities Kiwanis Organization for underwriting this month’s community conversation!
And to Marco’s Pizza for offering to provide the lunch for the whole season of Inspire!