My niece Alice graduated from the University of Wisconsin this year, so I got to hear the wonderful commencement address by ABC News anchor, David Muir. His message was that the graduates were about to face a number of new challenges, situations that will evoke fear because of the risk of going into the unknown. His message was to embrace those fears, accept the challenges they pose, because that will lead to growth and rewards that will enrich your life, and the lives of others who will be touched by what you do as a result. That is how both we and the world are changed.
We have all heard versions of “what you will regret are the things you didn’t do, not the things you did.” Fear is what holds us back from doing those things. When we think back on our lives, I think we see the best choices we made were those where we took the chance, faced our fear, and went into the unknown.
Fear is a powerful problem in our society today in many ways. This morning Sheila Kennedy wrote the following:
If I had to guess why so many of our fellow-citizens appear to have gone off the deep end—why they are trying to stockpile guns, roll back women’s rights, put gays back in the closet, stigmatize African-Americans and stereotype Muslims—I think the answer is fear. Change is creating a very different world from the one most of us grew up in, and the pace of that change continues to accelerate. As a result, we have a lot of bewildered and disoriented people who find themselves in an increasingly ambiguous world; they are frantic for bright lines, clear rules, simple answers to complicated issues, and especially, for someone to blame. People who are confounded by new realities, and especially those who are unhappy or dissatisfied with their lives, evidently need to attribute their problems and disappointments to some nefarious “other.” So the old racist and sexist and homophobic tropes get trotted out.
Unfortunately, the desire for a world where moral and policy choices are clear and simple is at odds with the messy reality of life in our global village, and the more these fearful folks are forced to confront that messy reality, the more frantically they cling to their ideological or theological touchstones.
This helps explain so many things that don’t seem to make sense, because they are not rational or logical, rather they are the result of fear.
This helps me understand a little of why our society has refused to acknowledge the dangers greenhouse gases pose. People fear the changes that would be required of them if they did so.
Zhiwa Woodbury writes:
Over the course of our lives , we have all repressed natural feelings of grief over our lost connection to nature herself , our true nature , and we all harbor deep fears as a result . When we get in touch with these feelings and fears , there is a tremendous release of tension , anxiety , and depression . If we have an appropriate spiritual container for processing this natural grief, then we will be transformed by the expression of our repressed grief. We will have greater joy . So … Do not be afraid .
By acknowledging the losses we have experienced in relation to nature, by embracing our fears and seeing them as intelligent guides along our spiritual path, we have nothing more to lose, really, and everything in the world to gain .
Woodbury, Zhiwa. CLIMATE SENSE: Changing The Way We Think & Feel About Our Climate in Crisis (p. 6). Kindle Edition.
I was very fortunate to have been raised in a faith (Quaker) community, because a key part of faith is trusting that God will guide you as you take the risks you are confronted with. Faith is not blind belief, but rather the belief that God will guide you through these unknown paths. You may well suffer at times, but eventually things will work out as they should.
Many Quaker men in the community I grew up in knew they would be imprisoned for refusing to be conscripted. But they and their families took the risk anyway. Many people of many faiths have suffered imprisonment or worse throughout the ages, but they did so because of their faith that this is what God called upon them to do, and that God would help them though.
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. (Isaiah 41:10).
People often mistake hope for a feeling, but it’s not. It’s a mental discipline, an attentional practice that you can learn. Like any such discipline, it’s work that takes time, which you fail at, succeed, improve, fail at again, and build over years inside yourself.
Hope isn’t just looking at the positive things in this world, or expecting the best. That’s a fragile kind of cheerfulness, something that breaks under the weight of a normal human life. To practice hope is to face hard truths, harder truths than you can face without the practice of hope. You can’t navigate dark places without a light, and hope is that light for humanity’s dark places. Hope lets you study environmental destruction, war, genocide, exploitative relations between peoples. It lets you look into the darkest parts of human history, and even the callous entropy of a universe hell bent on heat death no matter what we do. When you are disciplined in hope, you can face these things because you have learned to put them in context, you have learned to swallow joy and grief together, and wait for peace.
Perhaps the best thing we can do today is practice hope. And help those who are fearful confront their fears. To teach them to practice hope.