This Is What Fear Looks Like

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When you talk to people about fear, most people will think of that obvious thing that grips them during a horror film, or when something goes bump in the night, or when they are about to do something scary like abseil off a chimney for charity.

Other people might think about the fear they feel when they’re about to do some public speaking or go for a job interview. Or the fear that stops them quitting their current role to start their own venture or making an appointment to ask for a business loan.

And then there’s the fear that someone might feel when they see a group of youths hanging around by their bus stop. Or the fear felt by a woman as she walks home at night by herself. Or the fear felt by someone who has to run the gauntlet of a certain part of town on their way to their church or mosque or synagogue. Or the fear someone might feel when they see a person who is different to them, from a different culture, with different values or tastes or sense of dress.

Or there’s the fear that soldiers feel when they enter a war zone, or the fear felt by those selfless individuals who work for NGO’s such as Medicins Sans Frontieres who put themselves in harm’s way to help others. And then there’s the fear of the returning veteran who is worried she may not be able to readjust to her hometown again.

What about the fear felt by people who have no choice but to put themselves and their loved ones into cramped, dangerous boats as they flee their home countries, where they were born and where they’ve lived their whole lives. Countries which are now more dangerous than the terrifying boat they are about to brave the seas in? Or the fear felt by parents separated from their children at the border? The fear of rejection felt by those who have walked for months with all their posessions on their backs seeking hope in a new homeland. These are people just like you and me. Only they’re braver, and less fortunate.

But fear presents itself in other ways too. Ways that masquerade as something else. And when we give in to this kind of fear we become weak and lazy, and we allow ourselves to be easily manipulated by those whose fear is greater than our own.

It may not feel like fear at the time. We may even give it a different name — such as anger, or disgust — but it’s fear. And when we react in fear like this, we give away our power, and become undignified, shallow, miserable versions of ourselves. We embrace unhappiness, and turn our backs on love and compassion, and unity and strength. We close doors, build walls, marginalise, ostracise, demonise.

Don’t believe me? You don’t have to. All you have to do is look around — the evidence is right in front of us. Take a look at the current state of politics. Donald Trump, Brexit, the rise of fascism and the far right — it’s all a manifestation of fear. Donald Trump is frightened. Boris Johnson is frightened. Michael Gove is frightened. The Republicans, The Conservative Party, the far right, Nigel Farage, The Daily Mail, Rupert Murdoch, Paul Dacre, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the bigots, the racists, the homophobes and the misogynists. These people are all frightened. And they want you to be frightened too.

Fear wants to divide us. It tells us that those immigrants are a threat. That those young people hanging around the bus stop are dangerous. That the gays will harm our children and ruin our military. That foreign food is disgusting. That disabled people want to ruin the economy. Those other nations wish to do us harm. That man with the different coloured skin or strange accent wants to steal from us. That women will undermine our masculinity. That these people with their arms outstretched, their dignity in tatters and their homes destroyed by bombs and bullets are here to harm us. They intend bleed us dry. They want destroy our way of life. They are a threat.

These people and their strange ways and their ideas that are different to ours and what we know and are comfortable with — they must be avoided. They are destroying our country, our health service, our culture, everything that we hold dear. They threaten everything we have worked so hard for. They threaten our ability to sleep at night with a clear conscience if we should see them as humans instead of the ideological threat to our civilisation that they really are.

The fearmongers paint these strange people, places and things, as the enemy. They want us to see life as a battle between good and bad. As a fight for survival between what’s normal and right and decent, and what’s different and odd and challenging. And if we don’t go to battle then all will be lost.

But there is no battle unless you choose one. There is no fight to be fought if you don’t start one. There is no enemy. There are just neighbours. People whose differences we should find interesting, not intimidating. People who, when we take a moment to really see them, look just like us.

The fearmongers tell us that we have a right to be angry, but what they’re really saying is that we should be afraid. Afraid like them. They want to tell us what to think, where to focus our attention, where to concentrate our emotional energy. They need us to stay in this place of fear because it validates their own position of power. By feeding us misinformation, by lying to us and using ‘others’ as a tool for manipulation, they keep us shackled and obedient. Afraid of the terrorists, the unworthy, the sick and the helpless. The people who are so easy to pigeon-hole because it’s easier to accept huge generalisations about entire groups of people than it is to see individuals. Humans.

The fearmongers do this because they are afraid too. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage are afraid that they will be forgotten after their time, so they’re desperate to leave a legacy. They don’t have the strength or imagination to bring the world together, so they try to divide it instead. They try to make us fear people from different nations and cultures, the kind of people whose forefathers crossed the oceans to make America great the last time around.

Donald Trump is afraid. Rupert Murdoch is afraid. They are afraid of losing their place of privilege in the world. It’s more important to them that we are divided by fear and border walls, with our energy focused on hatred, than focused on unity. Because when people, ideas, and perspectives come together, powerful, wonderful things can happen. Unity is a threat to anyone whose fragile castles are built upon the soft sands of fear.

There is so much more to be gained from togetherness than from division. When we realise that the people marching toward us are not an army on the attack but instead seek our compassion and have as much to offer as we do, what we stand to gain is infinitely larger than what we stand to lose through fear. Working with each other and for each other towards a common goal offers far more benefits than building walls and closing doors. It is better for individuals, for communities, for nations and for continents.

But when we are given opportunities to collaborate, to learn, to heal and help, to share, to knock down walls of division, to open borders and close the gaps of inequality, the fragile castles begin to shake. When the people come together to empower each other, to think for themselves, and they realise that they don’t need the fear that Trump and Murdoch are attempting to sell them, the foundations of those fragile, hate-filled worlds begin to crumble.

When we offer a hand and a smile to those people who, just like us, are seeking acceptance and recognition, and understand that we are stronger and more fulfilled together, then the fearmonger’s power is gone.

It’s why they work so hard to keep us frightened. If it’s not fear of somebody different, it’s fear of another kind. It’s a health scare. It’s some new television show that will poison the minds of our children. The dangers of a new technology. Something sinister lurking in the dark web. Bitcoin. Drugs. Obesity. Anything to keep us distracted, angry and divided instead of smiling and helping each other. Anything to stop us working together to create a better world where people are more equal.

Malcolm X famously said “if you’re not careful the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” How right he was.

So if we shouldn’t fear the EU, the Mexicans, the Palestinians, the foreign food, the opportunities we see every day, what should we fear? If we shouldn’t fear taking responsibility for our own lives, and realising our potential, what should we fear?

We shouldn’t fear anyone. Instead we should raise an impenetrable wall of love and compassion to anyone who profits from keeping us divided. To the politicians whose message is one of hate rather than unity. We should drown out — with cheers of jubilation — the messages of the media owners who protect their own best interests behind inflammatory headlines. The powerful whose castles are built on sand, who will do anything to stop them being toppled.

The small-minded and bigoted can’t see beyond their fear. Because if they could they would be spreading messages of love, compassion, togetherness and opportunity like confetti. But instead they’re like monkeys in a cage, flinging hatred and division and fear and anger as if it were their own excrement.

But when they are ready to open their minds and hearts to the reality of the world, to different ways of thinking that might be challenging to their status quo, then we will be ready to welcome them as brothers and sisters. And they will reap much bigger rewards than they ever could in the old world.

In fear we hide behind locked doors, consuming, buying, terrified of the world outside. We become inmates in prisons of our own making, looking out scornfully through the bars at a universe of experience, connection and wonder that lies outside.

What do you prefer the look of? A life lived in fear, or a life lived in acceptance and unity. You’ve glimpsed them both — one will keep your trapped and subservient, the other will set you free.

The choice is yours.