The Fear That Drives Us

Last week, I shared my thoughts on the destructive power our hate has, and how it defines who we are. As I ran the post by a friend, he asked, “This is great, but have you thought about addressing where those seeds of hate begin?” A challenging question, to say the least, but a worthwhile one. Why do such deep lines of division exist? Yes, there is history, culture, misguided traditions, and twisted religious ideologies that one could point to, but these aren’t the source of hate, they’re merely outcomes of the same problem.

Some of the strongest contempt-filled conversation exist around politics and religion, and not necessarily in that order. It’s disconcerting, to say the least, that dialogue surrounding religion has led to some of the vilest remarks I’ve heard spoken about another person and some of the evilest posts on social media.

So many religions profess forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love and yet are known by the hate they give. And so much of this hate points to one thing — fear.

We will come back to religion in a moment, but first, let’s unmask fear. What it is it, and in it’s most basic form, what feeds it?

Fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion that is caused by the belief that something or someone is dangerous, or unsafe. Simply put, we feel fear when we don’t feel safe.

So what feeds fear? — The answer is the lack of, or perceived lack of safety.

Let me be clear; fear is a valuable emotion in the face of real dangers like unpredictable and rash politicians, and religious leaders who say one thing while living another. These type of people are unsafe, and fear is appropriate. But when someone states a belief, poses a challenging question about one party or another, or takes a stance on social issues that differ from ours; these are not dangerous things, hateful rhetoric is not an appropriate response in spite of it being the norm.

So many hateful things are spoken and done because of irrational fear.

If anything we say marginalizes an individual or a group of people, it’s hateful and is rooted in fear. If anything we say paints an entire group of people with the same negative brush, it’s hateful and fear-filled, whether or not we are willing to admit it. Anything we do with the intent of making others feel small is vile and driven by our fears of those people, their beliefs, their culture.

When we start to look at our behaviors through this lens, it turns out we have a lot of fear-driven behavior. So what are we afraid of? Do we fear being wrong, so we avoid a constructive conversation about differing politics, and blast those who see the world through a different lens? Do we fear being associated with “those people” so we avoid the challenging dialogue and deflect with hateful rhetoric? Do we fear that others challenging our own beliefs might minimize the value of those beliefs? If that’s our fear, it doesn’t say much about our confidence in our beliefs.

Regardless of our political affiliations or religious ideology, it’s safe to say the vast majority of us seek beliefs that uphold our perception of what is best for the world and what is best for those we love; our children, our families, our friends, the people we hold dear. But when we defend those beliefs in a way that makes others less than us in any way; when we elevate ourselves above others, we are the problem, our fear is the problem, our beliefs are the problem. When we believe we are better than others, fear reigns; and when fear reigns, horrible things happen.

The Crusades were fueled by the fear of other religions, using violence to spread a supposed message of hope. Nazism and the Holocaust were the results of fear propaganda surrounding an entire race of people. Slavery was justified through fear, and the burning of churches and mosques has happened for centuries because people fear beliefs that differ from their own. These are big things, but let’s make it more personal, let’s look at our everyday behaviors. How do we treat our neighbors who are “republican” or “democrat?” What do we say to someone who is gay vs. someone who is straight? How do we engage in conversation with someone who is Christian vs. atheist? If you treat any of these groups as less than, stop and listen to this — every kind of bigotry has it’s deepest roots in fear and using our beliefs to justify any form of bigotry does nothing but further prove this point. There is only one way to combat this fear that seems so pervasive — Love. Love must drive our decisions; it must drive our conversations, only then does anything we proclaim begin to have value. Love must drive our beliefs. Not just some of them, all of them.

Ask yourself, “What conversations am I afraid to have? And why am I afraid. What beliefs do I hold that I fear losing or compromising if I listen to someone else’s perspective?” If there are any, get rid of them.

Because anything that’s grounded in this kind of fear isn’t worth defending, and certainly isn’t worth believing.