Thursday, February 09, 2017

What We Fear

We watched Fiddler on the Roof last weekend. It's one of my favorites, and the movie is especially good (Topol, who played Tevye, has always been one of my most favorite performances in all of cinema. He's just believable and endearing!). I was reminded, again, what happens when ignorance and greed take over good people, and then they do things they normally would not do. Usually, mostly, quite often, it's out of fear.

In fact, fear is what led Tevye to at first deny his daughters' wishes to marry the men they loved. But what I love the most about Tevye is that he recognized where tradition and morality (or the right thing to do) collided. Even at the very end, when it seemed he chose tradition over his daughter, we see that he was not without compassion. 

Fear led the Russian soldiers in the village to follow orders and harass the Jewish people. It led them to follow orders to kick them out of their homes. In some cases, that fear led them to hurt them physically.

That was the reason the Nazi officers gave when they carried out Hitler's orders to invade countries, imprison innocent people, use inhumane methods of research on prisoners, and then exterminate more than 6 million Jews, homosexuals, Catholics, and those with disabilities. They claimed that they had to follow orders. 

The world recoiled at the thought: obey orders to hurt people on purpose? Even when it's wrong? 

And yet, look at the world. Past and present, it's full to the brim of people making the wrong choices because their leaders (elected or not) tell them they have to do it --or else...what? The "what" is the key, dear reader. The "what" is loss of income, loss of job, loss of freedom, loss of family, loss of country, and loss of life. The "what" is pure chaos. What will happen if people start disobeying orders?? And the fear of losing those things is so great, overpowering, and in some cases, quite paralyzing, dear reader. It's actually not that difficult to make the leap to making wrong choices in order for self-preservation, and especially, the preservation of those you love. 

When our families are threatened, we do what we have to do in order to protect them, right? The Mama Bear metaphor is quite accurate. Don't separate a mother from her child! She will do what she has to in order to protect him/her. Fathers are the same way --if they have to, they will go to great lengths to provide for their families. They will do what they can to protect them, even if it means going against their own consciences. 

So, what does this mean for our current society? We live in a country that has always prided itself on freedom and liberty for all people --and yet, our actions have never quite lived up to that ideology. Slavery was pretty brutal. Women still being treated as property was bad. We had to go through hundreds of years before people of every race and every gender had the right to vote, own property, get an education, and be hired for a job they are qualified for. I mean, we're talking almost the entire time our country has existed! But we got there, eh? We did it!

Well, didn't we? 

We keep facing situations, as a country, that test our resolve for liberty and justice for all. It's amazing to me that it takes so many generations for people to finally give up the unrighteous traditions of their fathers. Traditions that are so ingrained, to even think about going against them causes a person to panic. Think about Tevye. He was so afraid to go against tradition! Because tradition is what kept their society going. Well, just because something is a tradition, it doesn't mean it should remain a tradition. I keep thinking about the cycle of abuse. There are some traditions we need to destroy, are there not?

I also keep thinking about that fear. The fear that keeps us from progressing. The fear that keeps us from loving. Fear is the biggest reason why we have to keep fighting in this country --and I don't mean physically fighting but fighting against injustices.

What is it people fear, now? What do we fear in our country that is keeping us from loving everyone? We fear equality, we fear terrorism, we fear differences, and we fear compromise. 

How we fear equality: I was born to white privilege. This exists in our country (although not every country, obviously, because the Caucasian race has been mostly central to Western Europe, the British Commonwealth, and the United States) and it's real. Those who tell you white privilege is made up, dear reader, are either lying to you, or have really no comprehension that this is exactly what they have. I don't know why I was born in the United States as a Caucasian. But I was. I no longer ask, "why," and instead I ask, "what can I do?" Because now that I recognize I have been born to privilege, I realize I have a great responsibility to help others who were not.

*sidenote for my Mormon friends: think about the responsibility of the Tribe of Ephraim. Think about it. 

Does this sound arrogant to you? It might. It doesn't make it less true. To be born into a middle-to-upper class white family in the USA is to be born to privilege because it means no doors will ever be closed to me. Being born a woman was slightly less in my favor, but not by much. I've never been harassed because of my race. I've never been questioned for going anywhere. I've never been detained. I grew up in a safe neighborhood in a safe town; I went to a safe university and got a degree. I married a nice man and had a nice family. We live in a safe neighborhood in a safe town --we've always lived in a safe neighborhood in a safe town. 

I was born not just to privilege, but also to a family that valued education, God, and service. But it wasn't until I moved to Philadelphia that I realized how incredibly ignorant I had been about just how privileged I am. What makes me remorseful is that I could have seen that privilege just by walking to the other side of my city and seeing how others lived. "Others" meaning those who weren't necessarily born to privilege. I lived near a Native American reservation. We had many migrant workers because of agriculture. Why didn't I see what was right in front of me? 

All people are equal, right? Well, some of us are born into extreme circumstances. Let's look at some examples:
*Born in an African village with no running water. 
*Born into an affluent family in China. 
*Born into a hovel in the mountains of Chile. 
*Born in the suburbs of a neighborhood outside of Chicago. 
*Born into the royal family of England. 
*Born in the projects of Philly.

We don't choose where we are born. But we choose what we do with it. And for some of us, the ability to get an education, rise up, move forward, and be successful is vastly easier than for others. A really great friend I love and admire mentioned that kids born in poverty in Africa, for example, don't choose that, but that's way worse than kids who are lucky to be born in America --like the projects of Philly. I explained to her that the difference she sees (like I see) is in the opportunity afforded the child. But the problem is that in America, a black boy born in the projects of Philly should have the same resources and the same chances to become what he wants (American dream!) as a white kid born to a rich family outside of L.A. The kid in Africa will not know any different because everyone around him in that village is the same. They are treated the same! They have the same opportunities! Here in America, where we're supposed to also have the same opportunities and treatment!? It's not true. We have punished non-white people to the point that they are reliable on welfare, they live in run-down apartments, they grab any job they can get (and I'm not just talking about one race, here --I'm talking any race outside of white), and their access to health care is abysmal. 

I saw the differences as I was living in my nice big house, on a full acre with a beautiful view, 35 minutes from Philly, because I had two cars and my husband had a great job. Friends I went to church with had to rely on public transportation (or rides from church members), were often watched by the police, lived in constant danger, and were often questioned for their comings and goings, simply because of what they looked like.

And they are Mormons. Chaste, tithe-paying, job-going, school-going, kind, intelligent, talented Mormons. Being watched by the police because they are black. 

So, why do we fear this equality? Because it means first, admitting there is a problem. It means second, doing something about it. People don't want to admit it exists because at the very best, it elicits guilt. Guilt that they haven't noticed it, yet and guilt they don't want to feel, because to feel the guilt means they will actually have to do something about it! And then, at the very worst, they LIKE that they're more privileged than other people. Honestly. Some people are like this. They want to feel like they are better than others. I have no idea why...

Also: Most blue-blooded Americans are terrified of Socialism because they lived through the Communism scare. But that's another blog post... And no, I'm not a socialist. I'm a law of consecration-ist. 

How we fear terrorism: This one is easy. We fear terrorism because of 9/11. We fear it because we see it on the news, everyday. We fear it because our military (our brothers and fathers and sisters and mothers) are fighting it. Terrorism is real, it's scary, and we are absolutely terrified it will come to our country. 

The problem is that it paralyzes us and makes us react too quickly. Such was the case with Trump's illegal immigration executive order. The fear that a terrorist will slip through our security is so real that people are literally screaming to deport Muslims and keep Syrians out of our country. When we step back and watch, it's pure insanity. But that's what fear does to us --it makes us kind of crazy. 

The truth is that not one terrorist act in our country has been caused by a Refugee in decades. Not one. Zero. But people are still so afraid it will happen, they are willing to check their compassion and refuse to help those that are feeling from the terror. I find the whole thing really weird, and yet really telling. Fear makes us do things we wouldn't otherwise do. 

How we fear differences: We fear what we don't understand. We fear those of different races. We fear those of different cultures. We fear those of different nationalities. We fear those of different religions. We fear those who choose differently --fashion, sexuality, family size, marriage or non-marriage, etc. If it's different, if we don't understand, then we fear. And that fear leads to (as Yoda wisely said) anger. "Anger leads to hatred. Hatred leads to suffering." Basically, fear leads to violence, pain, and death. 

Think about it: what are the terrorists fighting against? In reality, they are just afraid that they are going to go to hell unless they do some kind of extreme-nutso-made-up-religious action, like killing all the infidels. Islam doesn't actually teach this, but they've interpreted to be this way. So, they are afraid, and then they elicit fear in the people they are attacking. If the terrorists weren't so afraid of American culture, they'd be out of a job. 

Some people fear abortion because they feel it's wrong or they have never been in a situation where an abortion was even an option. They don't understand it. Some people fear gay marriage. Some people fear it because they feel it's a religious obligation to oppose it and some fear it because they honestly don't understand what it's like to be gay. They don't know anyone who is, and therefore it must be a big joke.

Seek first to understand. Then your fear of the unknown will dissipate. That doesn't mean your opinions will have to change, but you will at least have an understanding and gain a lot of compassion and empathy. That is true charity, dear reader. The ability to have compassion and empathy. 

Finally, how we fear compromise: I've seen this a whole lot lately --more so in the last decade. It's pervasive not only in our culture, but in our government, as well. 

We simply refuse to compromise or come to a civil conclusion. What's right is right and there will be no bending. In some things, this is good, but honestly, in running a country, you just can't do this. There are millions upon millions of people in this country, and not one of them are the same. There are hundreds of cultures, dozens of religions (and non-religions), many ethnicities, and even more differences in socio-economic situations, jobs, education, and family size. There is no way that they will all agree on the exact same way to do things! It's just not possible in this mortal world, let alone in a freedom-of-speech place we live. There has to be some give and take from both sides of the political spectrum. 

But people still fear the idea of compromise because their idea is the right one! Their religion is the right one! Their way to handle it is the right way! To compromise is to lose power --and the fear of losing power is so great, so entrenched in the psyche of the American people, that they can't stand the thought of it. 

I have heard so many people in the last few weeks preach about civility and kindness, and at the same time, they act as if Trump is the savior of us all. I honestly am appalled. I don't agree with liberal agenda (if they have one) and I don't agree with just yelling at each other, but when I see the great hypocrisy coming from my people (ahem, the Mormons), I have to call it out. Do not preach about kindness and then gloat about Trump and his hatred. Do not preach about civility, and then refuse to give some of it to Democrats and liberals. Most of all, don't talk about how to reflect and represent scripture, and then get all passive-aggressive with people that think differently than you. That's a line you don't want to cross. It's a line that will be very, very hard to come back from, dear reader. Do not be so blinded by your loyalty to a political party that you can't see what's happening right in front of you. This goes both ways!

The uncomfortable truth is that Trump loves to plant fear in the hearts of Americans. It's pretty much why he won. He played on the fears I've listed above (along with fear of the shrinking economy, fear of moral issues, fear of insert-what-your-fear-is). He is still playing on those fears, and both sides are buying into it. On the one hand, his supporters are afraid of everything he tells them to fear (the media, the terrorists, the judges, Hollywood, the women's march, anyone who protests anything he says, etc.) and on the other, his critics are afraid of everything he does (including the good things he's done, like nominating Gorsuch to the SCOTUS). 

We simply cannot let fear rule us, dear reader. We can't. 

2 Timothy 1:7 says:
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
When I read that, I feel a lot of calm. God doesn't give us fear. He gives us power, love, and a sound mind. Power that comes from creating fear in people won't last. It's not even real. That kind of power often creates rebellions against it and is easily lost.

So, dear reader, don't give into fear. Protect the innocent, fight for those without equality, speak out against hatred, bullying, coercion, and illegal activity. Vote for people who represent your values (regardless of party). Don't be so afraid of job loss or jail that you refuse to speak your mind. Do good. Follow God. Have faith. And for heaven's sake, if you are going to teach about love and kindness, then please, follow your own rule! Thank you.

The End.