Half a dozen years ago, on a spring weekend, I went to Washington, D.C. with a small group of peaceful protesters to try to encourage more transparency in campaign financing, along with less influence from huge, often difficult-to-trace donors. I also wanted to network with younger activists and to support wider participation in our democracy. I attended workshops, met with old friends, made new ones, at one point joined a group in a march around the Supreme Court building.
Later that same year, I attended a ” Decision 2016” rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, headlined by Franklin Graham, son and putative heir to crusading evangelist Billy Graham.
The constituencies at the two events had little overlap, but themes of fear and “othering” invaded both—at the first, fear of big corporations and wealthy individuals coopting our democracy, at the second, fear of losing our religious underpinnings as a society. Sometime during that year, I bought a small lapel button: “Fear sells, until you stop buying it.”
These days, all sorts of groups all across the political spectrum are trying to sell me fear. Rarely a day goes by when I’m not assaulted by some internet or other media outlet explaining why “others” are destroying the world as we know it, why everything will be lost unless I (choose one or more):
desecrate, maybe even
I’m willing to participate in the first two, but strongly oppose the final three.
It’s gotten so intense that I’m inclined to stand on its head the advice of 1960’s countercultural icon Timothy Leary—rather than “turn on, tune in, drop out,” I need to “turn off, tune out, drop in.” This retooled advice fits with my somewhat uptight nature, but I believe is also an appropriate response to our current societal turmoil. The combination of media frenzy and a lingering pandemic caused by a pathogenic virus have left too many of us feeling isolated and in dread of what’s “out there.”
When the cacophony of disparate media voices gets too loud, I find ways to distance myself, even from those opinions I mainly agree with. I “turn off and tune out”: silence the television; ignore the internet; switch off my cell phone. Often, I go outdoors. In addition to lessening the likely danger from viruses, spending time out in nature helps me to experience once more my minor role but valued place in the grand scheme of things. Once away from traffic and mechanical noise, I can think, perhaps reconsider, remember to honor the humanity of those with whom I disagree.
I can ponder what my own fears are and how I can buy into them less often. At root, I’m afraid sometimes that the surface fractiousness of our human societies is all there is. I need to take intervals to drop into the deeper reaches of my nature, to reconnect with the underlying wholeness of the cosmos.
The relative isolation of pandemic life has given me multiple chances to experience this deeper connection. I’ve had a hiatus in which to face some of my fears and to strengthen my resistance. As I gradually free myself from fear and isolation, I can participate more fully and more effectively in joint actions to make long-needed changes to the ways humanity has organized itself.
Fear may occasionally still sell to me, but its market share is dwindling.