Our Response to Fear
Let’s talk about fear. It is a very recognizable emotion, and one that most people connect with quickly. We all understand what it is like to be afraid. When one of my children comes running into the room wide-eyed and crying I can immediately recognize “fear.” And soon, after a comforting hug, what is my next response? To quickly ascertain what/who/where the source of the fear is. I will ask questions to attempt to find this source so I can remedy it, so that my child no longer has to live in fear. Emotional responses make it easy to connect and very difficult to communicate. In the example above, it is not helpful if my child responds to all of my questions with the simple answer, “I don’t know, I am just afraid.” We need to ask the deep, difficult question, “Why?”
Why are you afraid? Or, on the opposite side, perhaps why are you not afraid? This is a more difficult exercise than you might expect. I encourage you not to stop at the first answer. In a time of fear you rarely get to your true motives and perceived reality in the first answer. So do the difficult work of verbalizing the root of your fear. Even if you do not share it with anyone else, that will be an incredibly helpful step for you to know when you can stop being afraid. Otherwise you are at risk of simply letting other people tell you when you should or should not be afraid.
Perspective makes a HUGE difference. In almost every situation with my children, the main reason they were afraid, and I was not, came down to perspective. Their fear was a completely rational response to an unknown or uncontrollable situation. However, I could use my size, resources, and years of experience to look at that same situation and come to a different conclusion.
Apparently, I grew up in the “dangerous” side of town. I didn’t know that until college; it began to dawn on me that my west Austin friends never really hung out on the east side of town where I lived. Dangerous basically equated to lower economics, higher crime rates, and more ethnic diversity. But it didn’t really feel “dangerous” to me, it just felt like home. I often walked those streets to and from the bus stop that would take me downtown to college. I was cautious, but not concerned walking home alone at night. To add some context, I am a 6’3” white male, and it wasn’t until I married a 5’1” woman that I realized her perspective on that same walk was incredibly different. I don’t know how I would respond in a world where everyone was physically imposing… and that is the point, I just don’t know. But given my physical response the extremely few times that I have been surrounded by people who are physically larger than me, I am not sure I would handle it well at first, and it might take time for me to adjust.
We are currently a community of people that does not know how to live in the presence of their own mortality. I have spent years of my life dealing with the fact of my own mortality and asking difficult questions about the world that I live in, its nature, and its eventual end. I came to answers that bring me peace and hope and that remove fear.
Graciousness asks me to give others the same freedom and time to adjust that I’ve had. If this is the start of a journey to understanding mortality and finding answers that lead to peace, will I give them the same grace that I’ve had? There is a difference between grabbing someone by the arm and forcing them down a path and standing next to them to guide and encourage them down that same path.
Over the years some have called my belief system a crutch, and I believe they meant it as some sort of insult to my intelligence. Again, perspective is so important. We do not consider someone with a broken leg less intelligent when they grab a crutch so they can keep moving. Fear is as crippling to a society as any broken bone is to an individual. If you want a way forward in the midst of your fear then I invite you to consider using this same crutch. It has proven incredibly effective for me for decades now, and I see no potential future that could overwhelm the support it brings.