UN News Center
At the meditation group on Friday a woman asked about fear of violence on the streets, the tangible apprehension we carry in our hearts. People die on the streets every weekend, senseless violence. “What do I do with my fear,” she asked.
Week after week, we witness the images of shootings in schools, colleges, abortion clinics, churches and malls across the country, when we sit silently watching the news of another black young person dying by police force. Or more recently, when a white terrorist killed three innocent people in a Planned Parenthood clinic. This fear is domestic, manageable. Yet we do nothing.
The conservatives see those fatalities on the ground as no more than “bad things happened,” as one GOP mentioned in an interview about gun control. The liberals pretend to raise their voices, but not loud enough to annoy anybody, lest they disturb the favorable winds that seem to be blowing their way in this election year. The community declares itself uable of fighting the NRA on their own, and retreats to prayers and social movements that have done nothing but interrupt political speeches and flood the social media with memes.
We allow the lobbyists of fear to dismiss those incidents as either mental illness or racial problems, something that happens to people other than the white mentally healthy, mostly Christian person. However, the signs of a society living in fear have crept under our thin skin. iPhones are ready to capture incidents of police brutality. Colleges and schools all over the country drill their students and staff to respond in cases of armed intruders. Neighbors watch from their windows, looking out for suspects in an effort to keep the violence off their front lawns.
Several weeks ago, a bomb brought down a Russian airplane flying over the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. The news circled around possible reasons. We didn’t feel threatened. After all, it was a Russian airplane. Then a bomb killed 44 people in Beirut, but American’s hearts didn’t bleed a drop enough to change the lightning color of their buildings. After all, those were Arabs. Then a series of coordinated terrorists attacks in Paris brought the spectacle of fear right to our living rooms via mass and social media. And then our lives changed. America now is driven by fear at mass murder scale.
Growing up in a small town in Venezuela in the 70s and 80s, we read the newspaper with AP translated news of a world in turmoil. During those twenty years, the world saw over eighty wars, in all corners of the globe, including the Malvinas Islands. There were wars between neighboring nations – Iran-Iraq, Tanzania-Uganda, and Lybia-Egypt – civil wars in Sri Lanka, South Yemen, Afghanistan, El Salvador, and Lebanon. There were multinational conflicts like the Lebanon War between Israel, Syria, the PLO and factions of Lebanese fought against each other. And, of course, there was the Vietnam War, a brutal conflict that left US pride wounded and thousands of disabled veterans portrayed in movies as the new evil. Terrorism was rampant in the 80s with hijacked airplanes at the center of it.
In those days, the TV also brought images of young people in Washington D.C. singing, praying, asking to “give peace a chance.” That generation of Americans managed their fear collectively, on the streets, demonstrating and rallying for peace and rejecting the military draft that fed the front lines of the Vietnam War.
Families sat around their TVs watching the evening news and mumbling their comments, usually a muttered thankful prayer for being so far away from those places. Refugees? Oh yes. The entire Americas in the 20th century became a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities by accepting refugees from around the world.
It seems we are living the same situation today, with one major difference. We are not giving Peace a Chance. We have allowed mass and social media into the inner fabric of our lives. We don’t read the news over coffee in the morning, or watch it on TV in the evenings. Rather, a constant bombardment of (mis)information reaches us at every minute, with graphic images of violent events as they happen, insensitive interviews of the victims, faces of bearded men, and the vitriolic comments of the trolls.
The media serves us what we want to receive. How does the media know our interest? Take a guess. Yes, the media gets data from the small hand-held devices we click on obsessively all they long. Each one of our clicks sends data to marketing analysts. Our likes, comments and “follows” determine what we hear and see on the news.
We reacted to Paris attacks in a visceral way. There is something about a Parisian dying in a terrorist attack that moves us in different way from the Beirut victim of a suicide bomber, or the Russian tourists who died in the airplane a week before. We all love Paris. We have been there, or want to go there, or dream of going. Paris symbolizes western culture and civilization, freedom, equality and romance like any other place in the world.
We clicked and clicked. We changed our profile pictures to display the French flag in solidarity with the victims. We showed the media we want to know more about what’s happening in Paris. And we got more. Much more. The week of terror was far from over – brutal attacks in Nigeria, the Israel, and Mali left around 50 casualties; however, we anchored our emotions in the Paris attacks, because it was easier for Americans to identify with the progressive French than with African people.
If the corporate media belonged to peaceful entities concerned with the well-being, and the collective mental health of the audience and true American values of freedom, if the media had our best interest in mind, this singular interest in Paris would have been used to invite us to reflection and solutions for peace in turbulent times. But it does not. These media belong to moguls who serve only the interests of the corporations they govern.
Additionally, this is an election year, and the last thing the media have on their mind is our well-being or collective mental health. The lobbyists of fear, who are also tracking down our interest from digital data, fuel our concerns to promote their agendas, by preying on the strong fear risen from junctures like this.
From pulpits and from political platforms, the lobbyists of fear have asked to close our borders to refugees or immigrants, stigmatize the Other with visible marks, worse yet, round the Other into concentration camps. They have fueled the strong emotions and reactions the fear elicits within us with incendiary discourse, which does nothing to help us deal with fear in a positive way. On the contrary, lobbying fear will only further divide our wonderful country, and radicalize the extremists that exist within us in every religion, ethnicity, and political view. Do not forget that the United States has suffered domestic terrorism carried out mostly by white Christian men.
For those of us suffering from mental disorders, these are difficult times. When an individual feels extreme fear over something that is not happening, or over the possibility of something happening, that fear sends signals to the brain that produce hormones and other chemicals. The person gets sick from fear. It is expressed in anxiety, or pain, or lack of sleep. It can disable the individual.
Any therapist will recommend turning off the media and enjoying the small pleasures of the day away from the scary news. Get out, create a supportive network within your community, engage in productive activities, nurture your soul, and be at peace are common suggestions heard at therapist sessions when the individual is in distress and paralyzed or disabled by fear.
It is no different with a society, only that the brain is our collective consciousness and the reaction does not involve brain chemistry.
Nevertheless, we must deal with this situation collectively. Selfish as it is to say, we must, first of all, be thankful that the events of the last weeks are not happening down the street from us. Although our collective fear might be well founded – it can happen to us anytime – the distance from the current events is our leverage, the foundation from which we can build solutions to contribute to world peace. We are not presently in a terrorist crisis in this country. We do not have to act the part.
What looks like a crisis are the many instances of domestic terror inflected on fellow citizens by extremists within our own society and our shared Christianity. Domestic or foreign, if we were in a terrorist crisis, there is little the regular citizen can do but trust our government and our military forces to protect us. That’s why we elect them and that’s why we should raise our voices to stop the fear mongers and the extremists, from whichever side they come from, for taking over the media. That’s what we can do.
Stop the noise.
What we can do collectively is to live in awareness of the danger that exists. We should also be grateful that we live in a country of abundance able to extend a helping hand to those in need, where we can practice any religion or no religion, express our disagreement with the government, have access to education and healthcare, and enjoy civil liberties. Refugees can’t. That’s why they flee their countries.
Channeling our strong emotions into serving our communities, and contributing our part to stop the stigmatization of the Other, to strengthen the values that make this a great nation are only a few strategies to deal with our collective fear. If we tell ourselves a story were we are the scared victims of extremists, we will believe that narrative. Instead, we should believe we are safe and live as such.
Reach out across ethnic, religion and language barriers in our neighborhood, school, and workplace; build bridges of communication to assure each one of us that we love one another and do not mean harm. Welcome, feed and house the refugee. Capture the gesture with your iPhones and make the images of peace the new meme. Even though all those strategies may sound naïve, although they will not stop a terrorist attack, we rather go through a crisis holding our neighbor’s hand than being scare of him/her. Do not let the lobbyist of fear reach your soul or mind, lest we become the next refugees.
Give Peace a Chance.