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.
Fear is everywhere. Stoked by sensationalist media and greedy politicians, it is pervasive at schools, work and even in places of worship. Armed security guards and electronic scanning devices stand at too many doorways. Fear keeps showing up. The universal message of all the major religions and traditions tell us to “Be Not Afraid” as we struggle to overcome and transcend this new reality. Perhaps the only way to do so is by turning at this critical crossroad toward the spiritual path of love and acceptance.
“We can escape fear’s paralysis and enter a state of grace where encounters with otherness will not threaten us but will enrich our work and our lives.” ~ Parker Palmer
I recently wrote about the manifestation of fear as we reeled in grief from the killing of 49 people, and devastation of their families and communities in mass shootings at two Christchurch mosques. Fear ignites the anger and hatred which causes such horrific violence. Of course we witness this fear every day in smaller increments. It is found in anguished faces of victims, hardened eyes of gang members and calls for retaliatory vengeance from our leaders. Love is absent. And without love there is little hope. My belief is that we cannot begin to cast out fear and understand love until we accept, include, and embrace those who are different from ‘us’. We cannot love God until we love our neighbors.
Our fears are not our identity. They do not have to be the emotional director of how we react and respond to each other. We can choose to reject fear and to choose love instead. In times when fear floods in or darkens our self-narrative, it feels like there is little to do but fight or run away. But the wisdom of Pope John XXIII stands in opposition to this primal instinct. He told us to ‘consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams’. For when we find the strength to choose love we will find a new freedom and a new happiness which embolden our hopes and dreams. We will have lost the need to defend our fragile egos and discovered our true selves.
Three Ways to Choose Love Over Fear
Conscious Living Coach, Lindsay Robin Christianson writes about the good basic tools to be used when choosing to love in the face of fear. Her contribution will help in dealing with fear in everyday life.
Fight and flight responses are generally recognized and accepted as the norm when it comes to fear. We are all familiar with them. Just like the boys in the 1983 classic movie “A Christmas Story” so comically portrays, a bully pops up and we run as fast as possible to get away. But at some point, perhaps when enough is enough, just like Ralphie, our rage becomes a fight for our lives.
But fight and flight are not the only behaviors that follow fear. A kind of numbing paralysis known as freeze is more common than we recognize. Often mistaken as cowardice, apathy, laziness or even collusion, this third survival response has gripped so many people in our times of increasing fear.
When we cannot seem to defeat or outrun the predator a ‘deer in the headlights’ freeze response can be life-saving. Helpless to do anything about a horribly dangerous situation, we dissociate from what is going on. Over the years in my work as a clinical counselor, kids and adults showed up completely numbed out in my offices. They had been diagnosed with a variety of anxiety disorders when more often than not were actually showing symptoms of the freeze response.
It manifests in those who are sexually abused, those suffering from substance use disorders, PTSD, and in battered spouse syndrome to name a few. Chronic dread, panic, and terror rob them of the ability to stay in the present. Available resources become impossible to access. Being paralyzed allows them to not feel the horror of what is (or seems to be) happening. This can go on for years, long after the menacing situation has disappeared.
“They’re used to self-medicating. They’re used to escape. They want to find that place where they can’t see their pain from.” ~
In ever more anxious times, the tendency to numb out is also increasing. It seems quite likely that our over-reliance upon screens, drugs, alcohol and other ‘addictions’ are freeze responses to chronic fear exposure. Mass shootings, threats of terrorism and a cacophony of negative talk coming from everywhere including the pulpit have created a sense of helplessness and a need to disconnect.
We must begin to understand this if we are to empower ourselves to change what is happening. Our power has not been taken away even though it may appear to have been. This is a time to encourage action in those who are isolating. Together we can overcome the powerlessness caused by fear and fear mongers. The solution is not complicated. Here is the message; Bring an abundance of love to the table. Fear cannot coexist with love. Do something to help and do it now.
Ask for Help
NOTE: It cannot be emphasized too strongly that those who are suffering from trauma and clinical dissociation caused by fear must seek the assistance of professional helpers to get relief and to return from being missing in action. They cannot pull themselves up by the bootstraps nor can they just get over it. Trauma resolution is possible using such therapies as Trauma Informed Care among others.
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.
Part Four of Contributing Editor Bob Jones’ conversation with Rabbi Moshe Scheiner of the Palm Beach Synagogue in Florida.
In this forth and final part of our conversation, Rabbi Scheiner shares how simple acts of gratitude remain life’s most timeless solution to fear and anger.
Bob Jones: Each encounter is sacred.
Rabbi Scheiner: Exactly. It’s like different facets of God’s image on
earth. No one person has the totality of
God’s image we’re all particles so to speak.
We’re all fragments of God’s image on earth. And until we unite with our fellow man, we
can’t complete God’s image on earth. And
that idea of we’re incomplete without each other…that you complete me and I
complete you… this is the greatest gift.
One of the challenges that I think we’re facing today is we
have so much abundance. My father has a
great quote he likes to say; “The only thing today’s kids are the deprived of is deprivation.”
We have so much abundance that we start taking everything for granted. And what our daily prayers do gives us moments to reflect and to be grateful. And Judaism does it in the most magnificent way. I mean we don’t put a sip of water in our mouth without thanking God for the water. We don’t put a morsel of food in our mouths without thanking God for the food. If we sit down to a meal in Judaism and we have five different food types…we make five different blessings.
We don’t just say, ‘God, thank you for the food. We say, ‘Thank you for the drink. Thank you for the fruit. Thank you.’
When we get sick we could have a headache, we could have a stomachache, we could have something worse (God forbid). Suddenly we appreciate our health. You don’t have to wait until you’re in the hospital to realize how grateful you should be that your body is healthy.
I was with an elderly man yesterday. He’s having shortness of breath if he walks from his couch to his kitchen he’s panting, right? But we go through our day taking millions and millions of breaths. We never have shortness of breath and we never stop to think about it. The list goes on and on and on.
And so if you are blind and one day you open your eyes and they were working you would be screaming from joy in the light. Well, every day when you open your eyes there’s a blessing, “God, thank you very much for opening my eyes today because I don’t take for granted that I have this amazing camera in my brain that’s able to see in color.” So it’s a daily challenge because human nature is that we take things for granted.
God, thank you very much for opening my eyes today because I don’t take for granted that I have this amazing camera in my brain that’s able to see in color.
Rabbi Moshe Scheiner
So instead of being angry and envious and bitter about life, and like I said, I do believe anger and fear comes from, insecurity…comes from lack of joy. The solution is to find more joy in your life. Find things to be more grateful. Don’t be envious of someone else because look how many blessings you have in your life.
And so I think spiritual values and teachings are essential and I think what we’re seeing today is just because the spiritual waters have receded and so all the filth that lies at the bottom of human nature, so to speak, is being revealed. Hatred has always been around. Obviously it’s human frailty that causes that, and tribalism, and then fear of the stranger.
Bob Jones: I was a practicing psychologist for 45 years and I have imagined that much of our anger comes from being a stranger to our own wounds which sort of goes along with what you were saying. We are so privileged, and abundances so abundant that we never look at our own wounds. We don’t see our own woundedness, and as a result can’t identify with the wounds of the other and that’s a regrettable thing. I think a lot anger comes from that along with all of the abuse and trauma.
Rabbi Scheiner: There’s a story that comes to mind.
It was from a great Rabbi. He once looked out the window and he saw his kids playing a game and they were saying who’s taller? So one kid stood up in a box to say I’m taller, so the other brother pushed him off the box and the Rabbi called them into his study, his two children, and he said to them, ‘Always remember, you don’t make yourself taller by knocking someone else down’. Sometimes when we feel that we have to criticize others and diminish others in order to raise ourselves up, and that never is the case. The only way to make yourself taller is actually becoming a better person.
Sometimes we’re afraid of our shadow you know.
When a horse goes down to the water to drink, it starts to kick up dust, right? And why do horses do that? They start stomping their feet and kicking off dust? And the answer is because when the looks into the water it sees its own reflection, but it thinks there’s another horse trying to drink its water. So it starts stomping its foot to kick away to drive away the other horse. And when he kicks up dust it muddies the water and then it no longer sees the reflection of the other horse. Then it starts to drink.
What the horse doesn’t realize is that first of all there’s no one else drinking their water.
Second of all, that God has enough water in the world for all of the horses.
And third of all, by kicking up the dust all that they’re doing is muddying their own waters.
It’s a parable for human beings. Sometimes when we feel someone else is a threat to us and sometimes it’s physical threat in business. This guy is my competition. he’s going to take away my business. Sometimes it’s a spiritual threat. This person or this religion is going to supplant mine or whatever.
We don’t realize that God has enough love and enough room for all of us and all of our beliefs and all of our relationships. And there’s no one else trying to take what’s yours because everyone has their spiritual path and destiny and purpose and it’s uniquely yours. Nobody could take it away from you. No one could infringe on it, encroach on it. And when we do what we do…like kicking up dust and muddying up the waters we’re just making our own water impure.
So we should invite friendship, camaraderie, fellowship, brotherhood, love and realize that God put us all here in this world and he has enough room for all of our worship and we should find the bridges that connect us because what we have in common is obviously much greater than what divides us.
Bob Jones: Beautifully said. Rabbi Moshe Scheiner. Thank you for your hard work.
Rabbi Scheiner: My pleasure and I look forward to seeing the
article. It’s an honor getting to know you maybe one day we’ll meet in
person. God bless you, all the best.
Part Three of Contributing Editor Bob Jones’ conversation with Rabbi Moshe Scheiner of the Palm Beach Synagogue in Florida.
In this third part of our conversation, Rabbi Moshe Scheiner reflects on raising children in a time of fearful expressions of anti-Semitism, armed security at places of worship, joy and the image of God
Bob Jones: You’re the father of six children?
Rabbi Scheiner: Yeah.
Bob Jones: How have you prepared your own kids to meet the anger, fear and hatred of anti-Semitism?
Rabbi Scheiner: I’ve raised my kids to be very proud Jews. The first thing is obviously never cower in the face of anti-Semitism. My children, like myself, walk around with a yarmulke on their head. We never try to camouflage or to fit in. We believe in the dignity of different. And we should respect every religion, every good creed, race, religion. Because like I said, we could all learn from each other.
Every religion, every culture, every society has wonderful positive things and we all need each other. And so my children are ambassadors of Judaism in this world. That’s what God gave them as their role and they should wear that proudly. Their faith in God should not be invisible. It should be visible not just in their physical appearance, but in their speech, in their thought, in their deeds and that’s what we do.
There has to be ambassadors of God on earth, and yes people will hate you for it, and we paid a price over the millennium for being Jewish. But, it’s a sacrifice we’re happy to make because it’s the source of the greatest blessing of our life. And when children have confidence and belief in who they are and pride in who they are, then they have no fear of others. And if they encounter people who are hateful…we have pity on them, we have mercy for them, and pray for them that they should be enlightened rather than be vengeful and hateful that God should enlighten their souls and their eyes to see the good. And we always have our kids kill them with kindness.
The greatest goal is that when we force our enemy to acknowledge, whether they verbally admit it or at least inside themselves, that ‘you know what…I hate this Jew, but I have to admit he’s a pretty good person’. So you just do the right thing time and again, and you open their eyes through your goodness. At the same time obviously we have to be practical about it and we have to extend and protect ourselves.
For the first 23 years we never even thought of having a security guard at Sabbath services. It breaks my heart.
Rabbi Moshe Scheiner
We live in a world which is becoming increasingly more dangerous. And I’ll just tell you that I’ve been a Rabbi now 25 years. For the first 23 years we never even thought of having a security guard at Sabbath services. It breaks my heart that in the past few years it’s necessary for when people come to synagogue to see security guards with a gun standing at the door at the sanctuary. That shouldn’t be the case.
What kind of a world is this that you can’t come pray in freedom. That’s not what our founding fathers envisioned. They envisioned freedom of religion. The fact that there has to be an element of fear for just coming to a house to worship…we all saw what happened on October 27th in Pittsburgh at The Tree of Life Congregation where eleven Jews were murdered in cold blood just for coming to pray on a day of peace and on a day of rest.
So that fact that the world is becoming more dangerous and more filled with anger and violence and hatred or the school shooting we saw Parkland here in Florida where 16 young beautiful children were murdered because of a person who was filled with rage and anger. I think we do have to ask ourselves what is causing this anger in young people. And clearly, when the person is happy you know they’re not angry. I always use analogy.
If you’re angry at someone right? And all of the sudden you win the lottery and you won $23,000,000 and your enemy who you hate walks into the room you just probably hug him and kiss him because you’re so happy just won the lottery that there’s no room for anger in your life, you’re just happy. So people who are angry and people who are fearful of others…I don’t think they’re happy people because if you’re really happy you’re a loving person. When you’re dancing at your child’s wedding and your enemy walks in and puts out their hand you’re still so happy you’ll dance with them because at the moment of joy and happiness and love there’s no room to hate.
So people who are filled with anger and rage usually don’t have love in their life and they usually don’t have happiness. Because if you really want to get to the root of the problem you have to ask yourself; Why are people so angry? Why they’re so unhappy? Why don’t they find fulfillment? Why is society so shallow today that it’s not giving people real spiritual fulfillment and meaning and purpose.
A lot of times psychologists talk about this as well as something called projection where we project our own fault unto others. It’s a Hasidic teaching that every person is a mirror to yourself to your own soul. And when you see something in someone else that you don’t like it is usually because you could identify with it because it’s really something inside you. They often tell people when you point a finger at someone else you’re pointing three fingers back at yourself.
First examine your own deeds before you point fingers at others. So I think that the culture has become very superficial, very shallow, very meaningless. And if it’s all material driven then when it comes to materialism, you could always feel…well this person is taking something that’s mine that I should be having.
That’s why, take hatred towards immigrants for example, ‘Oh, they’re coming into our country they’re taking our money and taking our jobs’. I’m not saying that it doesn’t have to be a legal and a healthy, pragmatic approach for dealing with this, but this fear of the stranger, the fear of the foreigner that they’re going to take something of yours.
In material things there is a zero sum gain which means if I have $2 and you take $1. I have $1. I can’t have $2 and give you $1 because in material things there’s only a limited of supply. But when it comes to spiritual things if you love someone else you have more love. If you love 10 people it doesn’t diminish your love and increases the love that you have in your heart.
The more you give the more you have in spiritual matters. The more you teach other people the more knowledge you have. And that’s true in every area of spirituality. The Talmud says if you have a candle with a flame and you light a hundred candles you don’t have less fire, you don’t have less light on your candle on the country.
Now, you have more light in your world because there is a hundred lit candles. So when we share a goodness, when we share love we multiply our blessings and therefore the next person is not a threat to me, but they’re an opportunity for me to increase my own happiness and my own love and my own light. And they say you make a living by what you get, but you make a life at what you give. And we should cherish the others because the other is the one that gives me an opportunity to expand my soul and to find greater happiness and love and meaning and fulfillment in my life, because real happiness in life doesn’t come from material things.
We all know that. Those are temporary and fleeting. Real happiness comes from meaning, from purpose, from love, from connections with others, from connections to God, from sacrifice. Sometimes the greatest joy in life comes from that which we sacrifice for others. So if someone is in need and you make a sacrifice for them, that just makes your life more rich. Maybe you gave away something, but you have more because you gave. So I think the perspective on life, the perspective on others that every human being is created in the image of God, just because the next person is not like you, they are still just like you.
Bob Jones: The image of God.
Rabbi Scheiner: The image of God. So, they may not be created in your image, but they’re created in God’s image which is the same as your image. So more than ever before I think that spiritual values in teachings is important in the education of children and that’s how we raise our children. We try to give them a healthy diet. A healthy diet is a balanced diet.
You can’t just teach a kid only about how to make money and how to be successful. Most of the schooling is about the how of life. You have to teach them the whys, the meaning, the purpose behind it all. And therefore not just at the home, but in the school, you know there’s a balanced approach to education and not only towards material skills and physical life skills and knowledge, but spiritual knowledge and spiritual values.
Because what we’re seeing today whether it’s epidemic with drugs and opioids and all of that is, why would people do these things if not for the fact that they feel a great void, a great dissonance, a great craving and yearning for something to fulfill them.
Your highest goal for you children is you want them to have meaning in their life.
Rabbi Moshe Scheiner
Material things and pleasure and the hedonistic lifestyle don’t fulfill you. I mean Judaism doesn’t have a problem with pleasure. We believe God created pleasure for our enjoyment like a loving parent wants a child have pleasure in life. But the greatest ideal for your children is not that they should have a pleasurable life. You want them to have pleasure in life, too, but your highest goal for your children is you want them to have meaning in their life, you want them to have fulfillment, you want them to have happiness. And that comes through action, that comes through connection, that comes through accomplishments, that comes through sacrifice.
Your ultimate goal for them is to have a meaningful life, a productive life an accomplished life. So your kid says to you; ‘I get pleasure from playing video games so I’m just going to spend the rest of my life playing video games.’ You’re not going to be happy about that and then when your kid says; ‘Don’t you want me to be happy? That makes me happy. I play video games all day.’ Yeah, but that’s not why God put you in this world to play video games all day. There must be a higher purpose to your soul. So we all know the goal of life is not just to enjoy life.
That’s a byproduct of life that it’s beautiful and it’s magnificent and it’s pleasurable. But there’s a deeper spiritual meaning to life and I think that’s what we have to teach our children, and then automatically the fear will dissipate because we’ll see that.
I’ll tell you a story. There was a Rabbi who was once driving with his student of his and they came to a tollbooth and had an Easy Pass to go through the tollbooth. And the Rabbi pointed that he should go to the booth that has a teller…like a person taking money. And the student was like, ‘But I have the Easy Pass. I could just zip right through. Why would I stop?’ And the Rabbi said, ‘You have a chance to interact with a machine or with a human being created in the image of God. How could you pass up an opportunity to say good morning or to say hello or to smile at God’s reflection here on earth?’
Bob Jones: That’s beautiful.
Rabbi Scheiner: That’s a very powerful story. Every human being now…we look at the people in the teller booth like what could be a worse job than sitting in a little cubicle. We don’t have a lot of respect for these people. We don’t think of them as the most important people. But what this Rabbi were saying is every human being…no matter what…we shouldn’t just be with famous people, powerful people, influential people, wealthy people, successful people.
Every human being you encounter is God’s image on earth. How could you pass up an opportunity to say hello, to talk to, to smile, to do something good for another human being? When you have that perspective on life you have joy just walking down the street saying good morning to people because you’re encountering God’s image every second.
Bob Jones: It’s that Thomas Merton experience. We’re all sacred. We are all shining like the sun.
Robert Kenneth Jones
ChaplainUSA Contributing Editor
Bob Jones has dedicated his life to making people whole again. His work in helping others overcome addiction and childhood abuse spans over four decades.
In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered us his four basic freedoms. The fourth being freedom from fear. It is fear which keeps us from experiencing life to the fullest. We withdraw into the places of safety that shut out the rest of the world.
We retreat from the things that threaten us. The intensity of fear, as it increases, draws us back further and further until we are known only to ourselves. Finally, we are not engaged at all. We are only surviving.
“All hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and openhearted vision of people who embrace life.” ~ John Lennon
Fear can be overcome in the presence of a passionate mission. With such a mission we reject the notion of survival and thrive despite fear. Passion is fueled by love which is the antithesis of fear. And passion is at the very heart of excitement. We can be so excited about the present moment with all of its possibilities that fear is pushed aside. We move through it and beyond it because our mission is more important than anything else.
Lou Gehrig and Jim Valvano are wonderful models of what it means to face certain death and ruthless pain with fearlessness. One had ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and the other had cancer. Both continued to thrive and overcome every day to the very end. Gehrig’s ‘Luckiest Man’ speech at Yankee Stadium, and his baseball clinics for kids being treated at Mayo in Rochester, Minnesota shine for us decades after his death. Jim Valvano’s ESPY speech inspires young and old alike. It serves to fund cancer research efforts through the V Foundation. He simply tells us; “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” These are words to guide us. They are examples of great passion. They direct us to live it well and to live it without succumbing to fear.