The Disease of Fear

The tragic events of the last week have set the nation, once again, on edge. Spend any time on social media reading the heated comment sections of posts about police shootings or Black Lives Matter protests and you will quickly get caught up in a depressing cycle of vitriol and hate being spouted from left to right and right to left.

As one who tries to see both sides of political issues, I quickly become frustrated. Part of me wants to run and hide from it all, but there is no place to go. I have a lot of questions, but I don’t have answers. I do have some thoughts on the matter that I want to share here. One thing that I am noted for saying often is that, in America, we like to look at symptoms and ignore the disease. As I contemplate the tragic events of recent days one word that keeps coming to mind is defiance. Many of the comments I read that run counter to the Black Lives Matter supporters point out that if the young men who were killed by police had simply complied with their orders, they would not have been killed. I am not going to go into the specifics of the cases to determine whether that is fair or not simply because I was not there and don’t know all the details. But on the topic of defiance, I do have some thoughts.
Defiance is a very real problem in our world. I teach in a middle school. The vast majority of discipline referrals, suspensions, and expulsions in our school fall under the category of defiance. I suspect this is a wide spread phenomenon. By the way, defiance is not a black or a white problem. It is also not a male or female problem. Defiance is an us problem. But I have come to understand that defiance is a symptom, not the disease. The disease is fear.

There is probably an element of defiance at play in most of the instances where encounters with police take a violent turn. The element that determines whether that situation turns out (as most police encounters do) without bloodshed or in a tragic death is often found in the way the officer responds to defiance. The disease that caused the defiance is the same one that could cause the police officer to pull the trigger before it is necessary…fear.

Fear causes all those Black Lives Matter protests. Fear causes people to post comments on Facebook in support of those protestors. Fear causes other people to fire off bitter, hate-filled responses to those comments. Fear causes people to post memes that show the criminal rap sheet of one of the black men who was killed in order to show that he must have somehow deserved what he got. When it comes down to it, racism is a symptom of the disease of fear. The KKK was formed during Reconstruction by white men who were scared to death that their way of life was under attack. All that “black on black” crime in the ghettos of Chicago that folks love to cite is caused by the fear born of the hoplessness in those streets and projects.

I don’t have the answers, but I do believe that I have correctly diagnosed the disease. I think the place to start to attack the disease is to seek to understand multiple perspectives; to open our minds and hearts to what other cultures are feeling and saying. The biggest cause of fear is the unknown. The brutal facts are that we don’t know eachother very well in this country. Maybe if we’d shut our mouths and open our ears and just listen to what other people have to say…maybe, just maybe we could begin to find a cure for our disease.

It’s worth a shot, isn’t it?

4 thoughts on “The Disease of Fear

  1. I wonder, my first thought when you wrote of defiance was this. I am truly asking this question out of curiosity. The same curiosity that killed the kitty. Anyway, you mention defiance as an US problem. Do you mean the pronoun “us” or the abbreviation for United States? I wonder, would it be fair to say that the United States was built on defiance?

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    1. Thanks for that observation, by the way. I hadn’t considered how my using upper case for emphasis could lead to that confusion. I have edited it to make it lower case. Hopefully that will make it more clear.

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