I write to think. Usually, when I sit down to write, I don’t have a clear idea of what I’m going to write about and I often end up at the opposite end of the conclusion of the one I thought I had. That’s the secret to writing, kids. You sit down and do it and let it change you.
To paraphrase Doctor Who, I’m a big believer in that idea that if you never change your mind, you will die stupid. So I try to nurture the constant doubt and uncertainty that are baked into my personality.
But today when I sat down, I was certain. I knew I couldn’t write about technology or vendors or trade shows or any of that. Not today. Today I need to write about fear.
Memories of being small and frightened
My Friday night Twitter feed was a river of pain, fear, chaos, and unfiltered reaction as the attacks in Paris unfolded.
Reading the news, I thought of the Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City, something I remember vividly from my childhood – of being scared and feeling like the world was so big and hostile and confusing. I thought of sitting slack-jawed in front of the TV on 9/11 and let all the feelings of fear and anger roll through me once again. I will remember Paris the same way.
I have sat in the bombing memorial in downtown OKC and forced myself to absorb the energy there – to feel it all and observe and process it. The weight of that emotion almost feels bearable until I notice one of the small chairs, the children’s chairs, in my peripheral vision and fall apart.
Earlier this summer I was in Budapest, just a few weeks before the massive wave of Syrian refugees began entering the country. While there, my wife and I visited the Shoes on the Danube Bank, where Hungarian Jews were once ordered to take off their shoes before being murdered and tossed into the river. It is by no means a “fun” place to visit, but it is an important experience.
I force myself to go to to these places because they are uncomfortable, because they make me remember. They make me angry and scared. They force me to process and understand the world and what I feel about it.
Fear is the root of hate
The men who attacked the people of Paris where, at their core, frightened. They were scared of a world they didn’t understand, of not being able to control their lives, of being lost and alone. They found understanding and camaraderie in anger and mutual hate, and the illusion of control through violence and terror. They let their fear drive them to do terrible things.
Every time something like the Paris attack happens, we tighten our locks a little tighter and close our hearts a little more. We are (justifiably) scared and and the fear mongers magnify that terror a thousand fold.
But what many people miss is that the fear they feel is the very same emotion that acted as a seed of hate in the terrorists they are reacting to. When we inhabit that fear and let it take over our lives, when we let it fuel distrust of our neighbors and fill our hearts with a longing for vengeance and retribution – when we do that we are following exactly the same path as the people who have caused us harm.
When terror strikes, it immediately becomes a battle of us vs. them, but if we’re honest, there is no “them”.
There is only “us” and each of us has the latent capacity to do terrible things if we follow our fears to their inevitable conclusions. Our reaction should not be “look what they’ve done”, but “look what we humans have done” and “how can we address our inner monsters and not keep repeating the same mistakes?”
The world is amazing and wonderful
My wife and I are expecting a baby boy early in the new year. In just a couple of months we are going to be responsible for the care, feeding, and shaping of another human. Honestly, it’s terrifying.
I’m overwhelmed with questions about “What am I gonna teach this little monkey about the world?” and “How can I teach him to be good and kind?”
The other night at childbirth class, one of the other attendees told the group that his biggest fear was the prospect of “raising a child in an increasingly dangerous and morally bankrupt world.” It took all I had not to react to him even though I understood the emotions that were driving him.
- Why have a kid if you really believe that?
- Eff you, dude.
Agreed, the world can be a dangerous and scary place (It always has been and I’m of the belief that it’s less dangerous and scary than it’s ever been.), but it’s also wonderful, filled with amazing people and places.
I’m going to teach my son that it’s OK to be scared and that it’s OK to be angry – that it’s OK to feel whatever he feels as long as he understand what those emotions are doing to him and where they might lead him if he throws himself completely over to them.
I refuse to bring him up thinking that it’s OK to hate others because of how they look or where they’re from – fearful of who they might be. Or that the world is binary – that there is only good or evil rather than a spectrum of unintended consequences.
I’m going to teach him that everyone is afraid and what matters is what we do in spite of it – that the best of us comes to bear when we have compassion and empathy for the fear we see in others.
I’ll write about technology again next week, but this is what I had to write about today.
Image credit: Loretta Prencipe