Friday, June 17, 2016

From the Soil of Fear (Ramblings On Fear as a Social Process)

Fear is a gift. Fear, as a physiological reaction to danger, is what has allowed humans to survive for thousands of years. Were it not for fear humans would have been eliminated from the face of the earth long ago. Fear is a response that is triggered from the deep part of the brain that energizes the body to run from danger, fight off threat, or try to be invisible until the environment is once again safe. In short, fear saves lives.

We should all be grateful that we have brains that, without even trying, protect us from all manner of danger with a fear response. However, if humans live only with that part of the brain funtioning, most of the brain remains neglected. The fear response is great when there is immediate danger, but what the brain has to do in order to effectively save us from danger is to turn off the rest of the brain for a while. In short, in order to have an effective fear response, thinking must be disabled. So, when the danger is gone, the brain must re-enable its thinking capacity in order to function in relation with others.

So, fear saves lives, but at the same time fear is no way to live.

Fear, once the immediate threat is gone, should also go away. Fear is simply an indicator of danger, not a way to live. Fear is an indicator to do something now and not a way operate all waking hours. Fear is no way to live as an individual. It is no way to live life in a marriage or family. It is no way to live life in a community. And it is no way to live life as a nation.

Wait a minute, what is an "immediate threat?" 

Gun to your head = immediate threat
Political views you disagree with = not immedaite threat
Grizzly bear chasing you = immediate threat
Person with different color skin = not immediate threat
Intruder in your house = immediate threat
The existance of refugees = not immediate threat
Tornado hitting your house = immediiate threat
Annoying Facebook post = not immidiate threat

Relational and communal fear as a social process rather than an individual situational necessity can debilitate a society.

Fear-based living can result in debilitating paranoia
Fear-based marriage can result in toxic suspicion, false accusationn adn endless blame
Fear-based parenting can result in parental over-protection and youth rebellion
Fear-based community life can result in isolation or rigid tribalism
Fear-based nationalism can result in soul-crushing discrimination and war

Fear in its place is good, but living in a constant fear state is possibly the most toxic way to live in relationship to oneself and to other people.

In order to live with other people there must be empathy, but fear disables empathy.
In order to live with other people there must be kindness, but fear disables kindness.
In order to live with other people there must be understanding, but fear disables understanding.
In order to  live with other people there must be vulnerability, but fear disables vulnerability.

From the soil of misplaced fear grow the poison berries of society. When fear is up and running all the time, everything looks like a threat. When fear is up and running, it is easy to be convinced that something, anything is a threat. Why? Becuase when the fear response part of the brain is up and running all it is capable of doing is 1) identifying threat and 2) shutting down all other parts of the brain that are trying to solve for other things (e.g. what is it like to be a refugee and what can I do to help?)

When the fear part of the brain is up and running, if someone says, "there is a threat," the individual is likely to agree, even if there is no logic to it. It can even feel like logic. Even if statistically the odds are almost zero, when fear is up and running, the threat claim seems plausible.

Let's be clear, it is not because the person with the fear part of the brain up and running is stupid. Instead it up because the rational part of the brain cannot run when the fear response is up and running. The fear response literally trumps the rational response.

More than any other appeal in the Bible, "Do not be afraid," is repeated over and over again. Why? It is not merely about having indiviudal peace and inner peace, although that is extremely important. "Do not be afraid" emerges from a deep wisdom about how fear plays out socially. Fear as social soil is bad soil and cannot grow anything good. "Do not be afraid" is a call to a social process as much as it is a call for inner peace.

The good news is that you do not have to be afraid. You do not HAVE to be afraid. Even when politicians, news stories, social media posts and all manner of conversation invite your fear response more than the thinking part of your brain - you do not have to be afraid.

Give that thinking part of your brain a chance to flex its muscle. Everyone will be better off for it.

No comments: