Never Numbing Out; Overcome and Carry On

This is the first of four follow-up articles on the many facets of fear including a four-part Interview/Special Report with Rabbi Moshe Scheiner of Palm Beach Synagogue.

After I wrote about the paralysis of fear, its’ numbing effects, and resultant feelings of powerlessness, it was pointed out to me that there was another, more intentional, response to fear beyond freeze, fight, and flight.  That response is loving persistence or courageous non-violence. It is evidenced in the Sermon on the Mount, as Jesus called for his followers when confronted by fear and violence to turn the other cheek.  This was not an instruction of pacifism.  Turning the other cheek was about demanding equality from a person of authority. This is the most measured and effective action that can be taken when fear, anger, and aggression show up.

Courageous non-violent cheek turners were named by Columbia University’s School of Journalism as 2019 Pulitzer Prize winners on Monday, April 15th. One award went to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for exposing failings by officials before and after the deadly shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Another went to Staff of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for immersive, compassionate coverage of the massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue that captured the anguish and resilience of a community thrust into grief.  These journalists stood strong for their communities and for us all in the face of fear and anger.  They exposed the truth and rejected the lure of moving on to other stories.  They refused to numb out.  The parent of a Parkland victim wrote South Florida Sun-Sentinel after Pulitzers were announced encouraging the paper to continue its’ work saying there was still much to be done.  He can rest assured that they will carry on.

It takes a lot of guts to persist, to remain steadfast, and to overcome.  A courageous cheek turner must have the resolve of Gandhi, who when confronted by his jailers with threats intended to invoke fear replied; “They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me. Then they will have my dead body, but not my obedience.” But this is exactly the kind of response which will defeat fear in its’ tracks.  We shall overcome. It is the essence of love.  And love refuses to capitulate.  It will not retaliate-in-kind.  It will not run away.  it will not numb out. Love is an action-choice made by the brave soul who finally rejects all notions of self in deference to the greater good.

The Fear That Divides Us

The presence of fear is chronicled every time we connect with our various forms of media. As we absorb these many reports it would appear that there is an endless abundance of fear and anger as well as the hateful, immature responses to those emotions.  These are not the simple fears we are so attached to which involve our social skills, intimacy, performance or likeableness.  Those anxieties seem to come with the human package.  The fear that is consuming us is fear of ‘the other’. 

When we fear the other our first act is to provide a label to distinguish ‘them’ from ‘us’.  No matter how seemingly innocent, when we label someone, there is a degradation which occurs.  It can infer superiority or inferiority, but always implies that the one being labeled is different. The 1968 Musical, ‘Hair’, had a song entitled “Colored Spade” which listed twenty-one different labels used in American slang to identify black people. 

It was hard to hear despite the ending in which the singer declares that he is now the President of The United State of Love. There is an indictment of labeling which stings the soul in that song.

We create labels because in defining the world around us, we somehow feel more secure.  Yet labels also affect the way we see ourselves and others.  Beyond security and certainty, they bring division and divisiveness.” ~ Colleen Gibson

The labels themselves become touchstones of fear used by politicians and others to manipulate us.  Even in this time of great prosperity, we are anxious about our security. We start to become more and more watchful of one another.  Soon, the watchfulness becomes hyper-vigilance and finally becomes paranoia. The gang member is going to assault me. The immigrant is going to take away my job.  The addict may break into my home and take my valuables.  The black man walking in my neighborhood may steal my car.  That strangely dressed woman with a baby might be a terrorist with a bomb. We settle for fear, act out with angry aggression, or create laws to exclude such people. 

We cannot find safety and security in dividing ourselves into categories.  We cannot find peace by separating from those who are not like us.  We cannot truly love our neighbor if we hate their beliefs or customs.  God supplies us with one label and dreams that we will someday apply it to all of his children.  God calls us ‘the beloved’ and creates us as brothers and sisters.  God puts us on even ground. placing nobody ahead and nobody behind.  God loves us all in ways which we will never fully understand.  With that truth as a light to follow, we can easily let go of our need to fear, label, and divide.  In the final analysis, it is blasphemous.  We have an opportunity today to celebrate our rich diversity and our common humanity. We can join together to become one family, under one sky, beloved from all eternity.

Learn More About Fear and Labeling

Fear and anger physiologically are very similar, with virtually the same effects on the autonomic nervous system with respect to cardiovascular and respiratory measures (Kreibig, 2010). Similar physiology that is part of the development of one emotion can lead naturally to the other. Adam Alter of Psychology Today writes a good piece on labeling which I invite you to read and share.  It is entitled “Why It’s Dangerous to Label People” and can be found by following this link.

5 Dangers of Labels and Stereotypes:

Dr. Nathaniel Lambert published a book about the five dangers of labels called “Standing up for Standing Out: Making the most of Being Different” which can be found both in Kindle or hard copy. It is well worth the read.