Thursday, January 7, 2016

Why Are YOU Afraid?

I thought the national divide in how we as US citizens view the Syrian refugee crisis (and our role in helping the refugees) was the issue that highlighted how very divided we all are. Now I see that the never-ending gun debate highlights this national divide even more. I used to break it all down and view this divide from the perspective of people who care about others (including strangers) and people who don't care very much about others they don't know. I'm shifting that perspective to now see it as an issue of safety: What makes people feel safe, or unsafe? Granted, I've been attuned to the fact that fear underlies many of our actions and views as a society for a long time. But focusing on basic safety and what makes us feel safe breaks this divide down for me even more. 

Guns don't make me and many others feel safe. Guns DO make many citizens feel safe.

Opening our doors to refugees doesn't make me feel in danger, whereas our nation being perceived as acting selfishly and condemning entire groups of people does ultimately make me feel less safe. It also just feels wrong to turn away from any suffering given our innate interconnectedness.

Allowing refugees and immigrants into the US makes many citizens feel very unsafe. This fear is expressed with anger and condemnation of "the other."

I had a clue how to approach this when I was focused on the capacity to care about others. When looking at it from a safety perspective, I just don’t know. When one person feels safe only by being armed at all times in contrast to others who feel in MORE danger around regular citizens who are armed at all do you bridge that divide?

When we don't feel safe, that is a very basic, foundational issue as we go through our daily lives. (This is precisely why #BlackLivesMatter is so heartbreaking and infuriating, as black and brown people...millions of people!... feel they are not safe because, in our society, people are deemed to not matter -- that their lives literally do not matter or matter very little -- because of the color of their skin.)

We need air, food, clean water, shelter and to feel safe from physical harm. (I also feel part of feeling safe is to know you have access to care when health and well-being are in danger.)

One hugely negative thing about the flood of information via the Internet and 24/7 media is that facts are no longer valued. We have a seemingly endless amount of information at our fingertips now, but it has become like white noise and people disregard it altogether (unless it supports their position). There is very little trust now in the source of purported facts, thus many people completely disregard any rational argument based on facts and statistics.

Obama is another lightning rod for this divide. Some of us pay attention to his record (what he has DONE), as well as what he says, and see no evidence of him wanting to take everyone's guns. Others have believed this is true from Day 1 -- that he intends to take everyone’s guns -- and have had this reinforced through their news sources for the last 8 years. (I just watched Ted Cruz get caught in a flat-out lie and then stumble all over himself in his attempt to defend his argument that Obama wants to take everyone's guns. That prompted me to reflect on lies and fear and safety.)

I understand there are forces who perpetuate fear because it makes them money. Gun manufacturers and their partner the NRA have perpetuated fear (of Obama and of many other people) in a very blatant way these last eight years and have made a LOT of money off of fear. The military-industrial complex plays the same game.

But even if Obama wasn't in office and people weren't hearing the NRA rhetoric about gun rights being demolished, stoking their fears, there are a significant number of people who would still be afraid and want to have a weapon with them at all times in order to feel safe.

To me having a dialogue about the Constitution and laws and such is often a moot point now, as sad as that is. All of that is in the realm of fact -- with a need for rational, informed discussion and interpretation -- which this nation seems to have given up on. Journalists rarely push back against blatant lies spewed by the people in positions of power, or those wanting to hold these positions. Lies are told so often it becomes the truth in the minds of many citizens.

So, what are we to do when fact-based dialogue increasingly impossible? It's easy to say divide the country, with the people who want unlimited gun rights, no immigrants, no marriage equality, Christian-only everything living in certain states, and the rest of us living in other states. But when you really start to envision the practicalities of that, it's messy as hell and not realistic. It's also very dangerous to our national security in a multitude of ways. (Yes, we all have some fears and want some semblance of security.)

But what and who we fear, and how and why we feel secure, is drastically different.

Shouldn't that be where we start? Having a dialogue about precisely what is at the core of our fear-based views and behaviors and beliefs?

If I could get a certain neighbor of mine to have a calm, civil discussion with me, I would. She loathes me, seeing me as everything that is wrong with the United States. She sees me and others like me as an example of what is destroying the life she wants for her and her child. (This was prompted when she knew I was voting for Obama in 2008, and why I was voting for him.) She hates me but underneath it she fears me and my views, because she feels it makes her and her child unsafe.

I don't hate her, but I do fear her for the same reason: I feel her views and actions and choices -- and others who are like her -- put me and my child in danger. Yet I also fear her in a very direct way because she loathes me and has a gun. When you know someone loathes and/or fears you, and they are armed and are vocal about it, that’s reason to feel at least a bit disconcerted, right? Is that irrational of me? Is her fear of me rational in a direct, personal way? I don’t think so, but I do understand that she views me as a threat indirectly.

Similarly, is it irrational for people of color and Muslims and gay and trans people to not fear white US citizens who are armed and have obvious disdain for them, or for people to fear police officers (or entire police departments) who view citizens as the enemy?

Bottom line, that's what the vast majority of us want as a very basic need: To be safe, and especially for our children to be safe.

I care about others enough to not want them to feel unsafe, even if I don’t like them very much and don’t want to be around them. I don’t want anyone to feel in constant danger and live in fear, including myself. That’s partly selfish, because I think it’s living in fear that brings out the absolute worst in humans. It creates pain and suffering in seemingly infinite ways for all involved, between individuals, between groups of people, and even between nations. So the fewer humans who feel unsafe and can step out of living in fear, the better off we’ll all be.

That’s what I think.

Do we start by exploring what and whom we are afraid of and why? If so, people will need to be brutally honest with themselves, especially to do the work of exploring WHY they’re afraid.

What do you think?

~ Dena

PRACTICAL COMPASSION | Sharing thoughts, ideas, and visions of a more compassionate, collaborative, joy-filled world.

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