The number one emotion in American society today is fear. There isn’t only fear of the future: there is a level of fear of the present that is unhealthy. It goes way beyond the level of anxiety that has been hard-wired into human beings, as a result of the evolution of the human brain. For that type of anxiety was beneficial, both to individuals and the larger group. Instead, our society is experiencing a level of fear and anxiety that is counter-productive.
Let’s consider an example that illustrates the differences in fear. If you are wading, waist-deep, in Florida’s Everglades, a fear of alligators is healthy. If one has that same fear of alligators while in a sauna in New York City, it’s unhealthy. One is hard-wired to increase the chances of our survival. The other places living things at risk.
This un-natural type of fear is the worst enemy that an individual can have. It causes great suffering, while adding nothing positive. It is a sad feature of our society, and growing in prevalence. It is the root of the diseased thinking that is behind the vast majority of human being’s violence. And that is as true today, in the streets of America’s towns and cities, as it is around the globe.
Fear, obviously, keeps good people from doing the right things ….the very things that they know they should be doing …..and to do those things they shouldn’t be doing. Thus, fear leads to another emotion, guilt. And, by no coincidence, guilt, too, can be either a healthy or unhealthy emotion. Often, it seems, the wrong people are crippled by fear and guilt, while the worst people appear immune to either.
I used to serve on a local school board. The district superintendent, had he been playing the Robert Hare check list slot machine at a casino, would have come up golden every time. Instead, he was playing the school and community. Late several nights, another board member would call me, apologizing for not joining me when I confronted the superintendent on his unethical behaviors. “But he’s too smart for me to argue with,” this fellow would say. Yet, if you are right, you’re right; if you’re wrong; you’re wrong. Intelligence isn’t a factor. But this fellow — a decent man — was afraid to speak up.
Today, there is a growing number of people who are afraid — they fear that they do not have enough money, to provide for their family. They fear that they no longer live in a safe neighborhood. They fear for their job, no matter how miserable they may be there. They fear what they see happening in this country, and abroad. They fear their future.
In many cases, they correctly believe that someone — some unseen force — is stealing what is rightfully their’s. Their home. Their job. Their safety within the community. But they are confused as to who, or what forces, they are falling prey to. Too often, they become convinced that it is the “others” — be they anyone who looks like an immigrant from south of the border, or a refugee from the Middle East, or any other of a number of “others.”
Fear is being played in politics, as well. Certainly, it sells in the media, which reports far more about alligators in the sauna, than in the Everglades of Washington, DC. This is not new, of course. Many of us can remember the “civil defense drills” in school: either climb under your desk, or sit in the hall, in case the evil Soviet Union drops nuclear bombs on the building. Fear has been an organizing force in empires throughout history.
Perhaps the most insulting to the public’s intelligence was the Bush-Cheney “threat” chart, with its color-coded levels of fear and paranoia. Be afraid. Be very afraid. But, as President Bush told us, still go out, spend some money, and have a good time with your family and friends, while you are afraid.
Currently, both of the major political parties are using fear to benefit their candidates’ campaigns. While Donald Trump comes across as extremely confident, much of his appeal is to people who are afraid. In Trump, the see a projection of themselves — for they would love to say the things that he is saying. They believe that Mexican rapists and Islamic terrorists pose the greatest threat to their lives — even scarier than hat atheist Muslim Barack Obama, who is still intent upon stealing their guns, despite the fact that he has expanded gun-owners’ rights for seven years.
Now, let’s venture from that sauna to the swamp in DC. The Clinton campaign is now attempting to turn up the fear among the Sanders supporters. If the progressive community doesn’t jump in line — like third-graders in a civil defense drill — why, they will be bringing on the horrors of a Trump presidency. If they don’t support Hillary, then Trump will be stacking the US Supreme Court …..so once again, we see the combination of fear and guilt. It’s all the Sanders campaign’s fault. Everything is.
Bernie Sanders’s campaign s unique, as it is the only one that doesn’t appeal to fear. Rather, although Bernie is honest — we are in a dangerous time — he encourages people to step it up, and fight that Good Fight. He encourages the grass roots to take care of business. To act for themselves, now, rather than waiting on some hero to save them tomorrow.
We understand that this has been the message of the Enlightened Ones throughout human history. In different parts of the earth, at different times, these men and women have advocated that people take responsibility for their lives. To not fall victim to those inner fears that all people experience. Among the Buddha’s central messages was, “Do not be afraid.” In the gospel that has the greatest eastern influence –that of Saint Matthew — Jesus repeatedly says, Do not be afraid” and “Do not worry.”
There are those who say that this goes against human nature. But they have but a shallow grasp of human nature. Again, throughout time, the Enlightened Ones teach much the same lessons: all people feel fear, but that can be overcome. Both the coward and the hero feel the exact same fear. But while the coward is consumed by his internal fear, the hero uses that fear as the fuel that propels him to victory. That is the flip side of the human nature coin.
Hence, we see the biggest difference between those who support Hillary, and those who support Bernie. It is evident that the Clinton camp is becoming increasingly hostile towards the Sanders’s camp. It is as if they believe we are trying to steal what is rightfully their’s. Or risking that Donald Trump will end up with it. But we are not: exactly the opposite, we are simply claiming what is rightfully our property — our conscience, our beliefs, our future.
Is that too much to ask?