Gordon Myers

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Fear and Family

Last week I wrote two blog posts about some of hazards of political discourse. Specifically, I named three hazards, but then only wrote two posts (until now). I confess that I was having a hard time trying to come up with some meaningful content to write for the last point, which is why this post is so delayed. But I think I finally have something.

As I mentioned in my first post in this series, I have observed "intense fear" expressed in the words I read in friends' Facebook posts, relating to politics. There's fear that a politician has a secret, evil agenda which surely means the end for America and all we hold dear. There's fear that a whole nation (or, conveniently, those in it who don't agree with you) have been "brainwashed" or hypnotized into apathy and subjection when they should be protesting. And ultimately, there's the fear that you are powerless to do anything.

Fear never has been and never will be a very productive activity. Nor is any reaction that is ultimately rooted in fear. However, it's important to understand just how challenging it can be for any of us to face our fears and overcome them. An unqualified, "Fear Not!" is often easier said than done.

I still remember when I was about 10 years old, my family and I went to Six Flags Great America. For those of you unfamiliar, Six Flags is an immensely popular theme park, filled with roller coasters, carnival rides, and obnoxiously expensive trinkets. That year was the first year I ever rode a roller coaster. I had been to Six Flags prior, but up until that point I had only ventured as far as "Bugs Bunny Land," the subset of the park specifically geared toward very young children. This was the year I was finally too tall for that section of park, and so now it was time to start thinking about roller coasters.

Except I didn't want to.

Roller coasters were SCARY. It seems so absurd to me now, and in fact I don't even remember the feelings of fear -- I only remember the details that I was very frightened of them at the time. So in a very clever ploy, my uncle made me a deal. He said that if I would go with them on the "Whizzer," which was the smallest and most tame coaster in the park, he would give me a dollar. After a bit of a struggle, I eventually conceded. The ride up that first hill seemed very frightening, but once we got going, I had a blast. And I wanted to ride it again! Hoping he could inspire a little more confidence, he then offered me $2 if I would ride on the "American Eagle" -- a wooden coaster that was definitely bigger than the Whizzer. He could not, however, get me to do that. Not even for $2.

Years later, I've now been on every single coaster in the park more times than I can count, and sometimes backwards. I don't hang onto anything any more; I let my arms dangle freely in the air. I can't get enough of the fast-paced coasters. The idea that I could ever be afraid of those seems so ridiculous. But try telling that to my 10 year old self!

Human beings will always be afraid of something new. It's very much a "human" condition. They will fight tooth and nail to resist thinking about new ideas, or even new presentations of old ideas. This isn't to say that all new ideas are good. But the point I stress is that fear is a phenomenon that every person has to face down in one form or another. So while someone else is dealing with fear (or even when fear is dealing with them), the choice we have to make is how we treat each other along the way. Questions to ask yourself include: how do I love someone that I disagree with, in a meaningful way? How can I bring grace into an argument?

Really removing fear usually requires more of a personal touch, a consistent, patient guiding that can take a lot of time and effort. Platitudes and arguments can never seem to do the trick. It requires the gentle nudging of an aunt or uncle, encouraging you to try new things, but also not chastising you when you're not ready. So in our political discussions with each other, even when feelings seem to run high, remember that ultimately we are one family. And even if that family tends to be rather dysfunctional at times, you are never helpless when it comes to your immediate environment.

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