Fear Is a Way to Make Friends
Alarm. Fear. Panic.
It feels at times that more than anything these are the driving narratives in our lives.
The world is a mess. It’s in chaos. America is going downhill. The government is just not like it used to be. The world is going to hell in a hand basket. Jesus must be coming back soon because the world is overcome with evil…
We tell ourselves these things all the time. Sometimes they might be in passing–a quick blip from our mouths akin to speaking about the weather or asking about someone’s day–but there are times we believe them. (It would be interesting to go further into whether having and saying these things actually seeps into our general mindset and the actions that we take or if it is literally just a non-confrontational way to fill the space, but that’s not the purpose of today’s writing.)
Today’s news headlines lead us onto a path of imminent danger, though the modern media with all its trending, clickbait headlines, and ratings grabs cannot entirely be blamed for this. Generation after generation have surely had some sort of fear that the world is in utter disarray and being overcome by evil, we are not unique.
But is it all really that bad?
Unfortunately I don’t have any studies or factual evidence to cite, but we can look at broad examples of the world and its past miseries.
There is the Black Death which 700 years ago may have killed over 100 million people in a time span of 7 years.
There is the near wiping out of Native Peoples in the Americas through sickness and war 500 years ago.
There were the Greeks and then the Romans who went from area to area conquering land after land, until most of the world was theirs.
People lived shorter lives and having children was a bigger risk than gambling for both mother and child.
Having any sort of surgery would have been a near guaranteed death.
All of these things point to civilizations where not only was daily life harder, but diseases and conquering people could kill you any day.
We live in a post-conquering world (well, a more subtle conquering exists, but it’s so tasteful) where organizations are put in place in order to keep people civil. This is based in a general, worldwide standard that killing people to take over land and resources is wrong. We have people put successfully into employment whose sole purpose is to try to save and protect your life.
Modern crises markers like Isis and Ebola are certainly reminders that life is fragile, but put into a historical context that includes crusades, genocides, and plagues it really is all mild. As absolutely horrendous as it is to see natural disasters strike, wrecking cities and destroying lives, any number of years ago it would have been exponentially worse. Of course the world is filled with all sorts of tragedy, but compared to the past this is a utopia.
But life is hard. There is no doubting that. And I think that this is the reason that the complaint of the present age is a go-to for us. We want somebody to hear our cry. The tension that we feel in our soul that the world is not as it should be; that it it is not lining up with the way that we have come to expect it should. This makes us feel important in a world that is large and that does contain suffering and we want to feel important. We want to know that our experience is one that is worthwhile. Complaining and fearing and freaking out do that. They point us away from the mundane that is normal life–for most things work how they are supposed to on most days, disaster is the exception not the norm for most people on most days historically–and give us importance.
Perhaps our insecurities and our difficulties and our problems all get extended and expanded into this ridiculous form of hyperbole, but they are only try to calm our fears and explain life in some way that connects us to one another.
So let’s take it easy, at least a little bit, the world is full of hyperbole–less of that please, let’s celebrate the good that exists, but let’s also make serious laments that provide beautiful, flowing attempts to understand the human condition and the battering of the human heart.