I often think about fear running rampant – in myself, in a country like the US and in the whole world – how it gets to that point where from one perspective it looks like out and out paranoia but from another it looks like cold, hard realism.
It’s easy when you aren’t threatened in any way to see other people’s fear as paranoia, and to make simplistic judgments, but when you’ve personally been attacked, or are in a country where violent crime is prevalent and bombs are going off, it’s not so simple. When you live in a world of political manipulation and abuse of power, and gross human rights violations it’s exceptionally difficult to keep an open mind without worrying that you’re avoiding reality.
Some time ago I was attemptedly mugged on the beach which is en route to the shop where I buy my groceries. I used to walk back along it with my shopping bags, and never gave it a second thought. I knew there was crime here but I hadn’t experienced it so I wasn’t afraid. I considered myself watchful, but not paranoid.
That day on the beach a dark-skinned man passed me and set my alarm bells off. I wondered if paranoia had infiltrated after all. He sat down on the dune up ahead. I kept my eyes on him as I approached, but he seemed not to notice me. I passed him, thinking yes I’d been paranoid, and bam! He was trying to grab my bag which was over one shoulder. Fortunately for me I just got mad, and yelled obscenities at him as I swung my shopping bags – filled with things like toilet rolls, bread and tomatoes! – at him. He was terrified and ran away.
But from that day on I’ve been scared of walking along the beach, bag or no bag. And for a while, whenever a dark-skinned man approached me walking in the opposite direction, fear would shoot through my body. I’ve had to make a very conscious and consistent effort to register every dark-skinned man who has not attacked me, and to show myself that this is not about race. It was about one individual who happened to be dark-skinned.
Well, the same dynamic seems to be playing out in the US with regard to suicide bombers and fundamentalist Muslims, and Muslims in general. There are those who make it all about race. Some of the media, the military industrial complex and various deviant politicians exploit and augment that fear for their own ends.
But there is more to America than deviant politicians, distorted media and fear mongers. There are those who resist paranoia, who treasure human life and independence of mind and spirit, who see the faults where they lie; speak out about them and work towards correcting them. I think these people are the true spirit of the country. So, just as I need to monitor my fear and judgment in my personal life, I need to do the same thing with a country like America. I need to inform myself of all that’s good as well as what’s not.
As for the way I view the whole world, a lot of awful things happen these days. It’s easy to get paranoid about the human race and where we’re going. But I don’t want to do that, any more than I want to let it happen in my day to day life or in the way I view a country like the US. I want to be realistic, but I don’t want to be a global fear-monger. It’s not being realistic, it’s distorting reality. I’ll pay attention to the hideous things that are happening, but I also want to pay close attention to all that’s right with the world, and keep in mind all the good people, all the great minds, all the generous hearts.