Monday, December 7, 2015

Fear Not

When have people ever thought things are not falling apart?

As a lover of scifi/fantasy/speculative work, I have watched enough (post)apocalyptic shows/movies (Walking Dead, The 100, Battlestar Galactica, The Book of Eli)  and read enough (post)apocalyptic literature (the least of which is The Hunger Games) to see the patterns. When things fall apart, (as most think they are right now) we revert to what we call primitive, primal, survival-driven behavior and whoever has the most guns... they win. I guess the survivors also need smarts, selective-kindness (tempered with just enough cruelty), and a "group" -- but guns, too. Always the guns.

Not surprisingly, post-apocalyptic literature and science fiction is on the rise. Everywhere we turn, the news, entertainment, everyday conversations... it all too frequently reinforces the message: Be afraid. The news is a list of things to fear: factory recalls for autos and food, cancer, terrorist attacks, mass-shootings, underfunded schools, refugees, illegal immigrants, police brutality, bullying, flesh eating bacteria... the list goes on. The be afraid message is often followed by a suggestion, to the advantage of the suggestion-maker, of how to alleviate that fear: vote for me, buy a gun, build a wall, buy this food to comfort you and yours, lock them up, kill them, protect yourself with these tires/airbags/insurance, keep them out, send your pledge...

It works, because fear is a serious motivator. It changes the way our brains work. To put it simply:
"Once the fear pathways are ramped up, the brain short-circuits more rational processing paths and reacts immediately to signals from the amygdala. When in this overactive state, the brain perceives events as negative and remembers them that way. (source)
This brief overview also says:
"Moreover, fear can interrupt processes in our brains that allow us to regulate emotions, read non-verbal cues and other information presented to us, reflect before acting, and act ethically. This impacts our thinking and decision-making in negative ways, leaving us susceptible to intense emotions and impulsive reactions. All of these effects can leave us unable to act appropriately."
If this isn't a note to turn off the TV, I don't know what is. Well, maybe it's this: The more you hear a message, the more you believe it to be true, regardless of the truthfulness of the information or the credibility of the source. Nevertheless, I will quote directly from a credible source to confirm this:
"The robust findings from these five experiments merge to tell a consistent story: Repeated exposure to statements increased how truthful those statements were later believed to be, and this occurred regardless of whether they were encountered in a source that was said to be reliable or said to be unreliable. Across the studies, this basic pattern was seen at varying retention intervals (ranging from 2–3 days to 4 weeks), with varying orienting tasks, and it occurred when the discrediting information about the sources came before as well as after reading the facts."
This is from a study conducted by Linda A. Henkel (Department of Psychology, Fairfield University, Fairfield, CT) & Mark E. Mattson (Department of Psychology,  Fordham University, New York, NY).

Add to that the following:
According to the ADAA, nearly 18% of our adult population suffers from an anxiety disorder. That's 40 million Americans. And we live in a culture that repeatedly promotes a message of fear and has few gun control regulations.

     It's a vicious, vicious cycle,
     a downward, tangled spiral..
     We weave it by ourselves
     of tail-eating snakes
     of best intentions,
     of sermons preached only to the choir.

I do not write this blog post to create fear, however. I write it to explain my next project...

...for, time and time again, I hear God's voice through the Bible saying


I don't have a good suggestion as how to alleviate fear. I just want to pass that idea along--to counter-act all the be afraid messages out there. If we can make decisions free from the negative impacts caused by fear, perhaps we can make better ones for ourselves, our families, our communities, our countries, and our world. I have to be open to transformation, to changing my mind, to letting the best idea win out. As David Roberts writes in his article about gun-owners' take on mass-shootings: "A cherished myth of American politics (indeed, of democracy generally) is that it's fundamentally about persuasion, the contest of ideas." Maybe, with less fear, we can restore that myth to reality. Perhaps we can be a part of a less-divided, less-polarized, less-stratified culture.

I need to be less afraid, too.

So, I set myself the task of finding (with the help of other resources) the many passages in the Bible where the "do not be afraid" message is repeated and have decided to post one a day here. I have chosen to follow Jesus as the example of how I should live in this world, so the Bible is the holy text I refer to when seeking guidance. Christianity works for me, for the most part, so I begin there. (That said, I hope I never shut myself off from being influenced by others' sense of divine goodness. I am sure there are other sacred texts that also reinforce love, kindness, charity, and the message "fear not" and I do not want to diminish them in any way. I am just not as familiar with them.)

So, I begin today:

If repetition matters, regardless of the credibility of the source, this project just might work. Ha!

No comments: