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Love in the Face of Fear

March 12, 2017
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‘Building Peace’ by Yasmeen via Flickr.com

I haven’t written about the political climate lately because I really don’t know what to say. There is too much. It’s not necessarily about feeling overwhelmed. I don’t actually. I’m paying attention. I have an opinion. But there is a difference between paying attention, having a stance, and knowing what to say about it – all of it.

Mostly I just want to ask people to be kind. I know that seems like a no-brainer, but it’s really not. Everyone thinks they are kind. Everyone thinks they are the good guy. No one thinks they’re the villain. And even when we know we’re being unkind to each other we think “they deserve it” or some variant thereof. Of course, we’re always kind, except when the “other guy” is being an asshole.

Last week Dr. Michael Jerryson came to our campus to talk about religions and violence. He wasn’t arguing that some religions are more violent than others. He didn’t try to paint violent people as deviant or mentally ill or evil. Rather, he pointed out that when any human being perceives a threat to their survival, their family, their nation, or a threat to whatever they hold good and sacred, they may respond with violence. Evil acts are done by ordinary people.

I think he’s right. I think we’re seeing a lot of that right now.

A lot of people in this country believe they are under threat. They believe their enemies are trying to destroy everything they hold dear. The problem is, they’re not wrong.

But here is the distinction – some people are being attacked and others are just being opposed. The problem is we can’t always tell the difference.

I oppose white supremacy because white supremacists attack and kill people of color and enforce oppressive laws that threaten and limit the survival of people of color. I want white supremacists to be arrested and jailed for hate crimes. I want society as a whole to so loudly, publicly, and repeatedly denounce white supremacy that they can’t say a word in public without being shouted down, can’t write a single line of fake news that anyone would click on or read, can’t suggest a single law without being being thrown out of legislative committee, and can’t mistreat a single POC customer without being fired on the spot. But I don’t want to kill them.

Likewise with sexists, homophobes, xenophobes, the greedy and corrupt. I oppose them. I will do everything I can to stop their behavior and denounce their views. But I don’t want to kill them, even when they want to kill me.

According to Dr. Jerryson, people become more prone to violence when they enter a mindset he calls a ‘sacred emergency.’ They perceive whatever they hold dear to be sacred, righteous, and ultimately good. Whoever opposes them is, therefore, evil. Their mind begins to interpret all opposition as a literal attack, a threat not only to their existence, but to the existence of the sacred, the good.

It’s like flipping a switch. Normal moral behavior can be suspended in such a state of emergency. Violence and self-sacrifice are justified because the person in the sacred emergency is “at war.” You’ll hear this rhetoric from white supremacists. They believe they’re at war.

More frightening, however, is that you’ll also hear this rhetoric from people in the White House right now. They believe they’re at war – against Muslims and Jews, people of color, immigrants, feminists, liberals and social progressives. They’ve mistaken opposition for attack. They see an opponent as an enemy. They fear loosing because they believe it means annihilation.

Because they believe they’re at war, they can justify almost anything, even a literal war. Honestly, I am most afraid of this possibility. We’re not there yet, but in the meantime, they’re doing plenty of damage with executive orders, harmful laws, and overuse of police powers. I am afraid, though mostly on behalf of more vulnerable brothers and sisters who are, literally, being attacked.

Fear is a very hard thing to fight. The people in the White House today are afraid. The people who voted for them are afraid – of loosing jobs, of loosing ways of life, of living in a country they don’t recognize anymore – mostly they are afraid of change, which is a very human thing. They have suffered in their lives, as have we all, and have willingly grasped a mis-attribution of the cause of their suffering. They are afraid, they are angry, and reaching out for every bit of control and power they can find.

The struggle is to prevent myself from doing the same. I am afraid, but I try so hard not to be angry. Some days I fail. I want things to change so badly. I want the power to change it, but I don’t want that power to come at the expense of others less fortunate or more vulnerable than I.

This is too vague. A dozen times I’ve started a specific list of things to oppose, things to support, causes to give money to, politicians and policies to denounce. There’s just too much to say about it all, but others are saying it if you know where to look.

So I’m just going to do this. I’m going to keep opposing attacks on others. I’m going to continue to be an advocate on social media. I’m going to keep giving to causes that protect others from attack. I’m going to vote. I’m going to speak out in public when I see someone being attacked. I can’t promise I’ll put my body in harms way to protect another. I wish I could, but I just don’t know that about myself yet. So I’m going to do what I know I can do. I’m going to educate. I’m going to love in the face of fear.

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