A phone call that never came, or one conveying bad news is all too familiar to many of us. A promise broken, pledge not honored, a job not well done that cost a pretty penny, and of course, debilitating excruciating skeletal and muscular accidents and failures to our bodies can unnerve us. Usually we suffer in silence but some events are so big and catastrophic, like the space ship accident, and tsunami in Japan, that pain is no longer private.
A ambiguous sigh, stoic composure, unrehearsed swearing, prayer for relief, a scream that pierces the night or tears and sobs may reveal what pains us and how we respond to those stimuli. In the fuzzy disoriented glare of our pain, another`s wail may not be urgent. Perhaps it’s simply and straight forward: take care of your oxygen mask before helping another with his, but the image of somebody else`s pain overwhelming them and exposing gaping gaps of vulnerability, theirs and ours is a chance to put distance between us and our fears. Or we could end up in that person`s shoes.
We fear a particular outcome, yet the inputs that make that outcome a statistical certainty are either poorly understood or dismissed as flights of fantasy. No one has all the answers to why things are, or the order; chronological, social, or economic conditions that must exist for a conducive or sterile environment to be transformed. Unsure of what are ingredients, catalyst, and the volatility of inert and seemingly unconnected events, our experiments and experiences mostly defy neat or precise tabulations, analysis, or conclusions.
Whether our world or environment is chaotic or is so much larger than the dusty lens through which we seek, see, think and filter information, though relevant, maybe moot. The Bunsen burners and petri dish, respectable and reliable indicators of our rigorous investigation of facts, are reflective of a controlled laboratory space and the ways we think. Hence prejudice. But the world is pushing in on that space and we have to concede that our control of all the variables is neither complete nor exhaustive. Science can de-extinct dinosaurs, peer into a million yesterdays, predict solar storms but be impotent to prevent a personal crises and its attending tsunami. For some folks the urgency of now is an emergency, others may embrace that maddening eddy with calm and control and still others will see the phoenix rising from the ash, while the inferno rages. In addition, high school and university dropouts have revolutionized the way we access information, travel and store data.
So, there is no one size fits all template or even unanimity to confronting the anxious vulnerabilities, real and imagined. Left to distinguished scientist and scholars in influential corners, and religious leaders who often live in dark spaces, to shine a bright light of hope, desperate peoples for whom strife and conflict are their best tools of hope to defer marginalization or genocide, engage a politics that doesn’t think twice about hurting or belittling another. It pains me even as I acknowledge I am guilty.
Unfortunately, this is a strategy born of imagined necessity yielding diminishing returns. But there is a greater tragedy; we do not make the connection between degrading each other and our inability to secure a society and an economy of which we can be proud. We do not trivialize our fears or the fight and flight response that come oh so naturally. However, there is a limit to fear`s rockets.
If we manage to subdue rather than make monuments to our fears, the labored and grudging respect that we were prepared to offer by default will not be necessary. True, we see each other`s concern and we build empathy, but we also see that our tried and trusted tools of strife and marginalization are like machete and agricultural forks, useful but inefficient in the proven age of the farm tractor. We seem unaware, perhaps from our various `trail of tears`, that the respect we give to each other is neither automatic nor unconditional. It should be.
It is useful that we detain ourselves with debates of what is important and how we pursue happiness together and individually, but we miss growth opportunities when we pay homage to fear. The result is pain and a cycle of heartache. We can do better is an understatement, no, an indictment of the poverty we unwittingly unleash. I am not above suspicion, but it is disconcertingly painful to be fingered as a suspect in the robbery I report.
Peter Peterkin, Readers Bureau, Fellow
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