I am told that psychologists generally agree, an individual can only live in constant, pervasive fear for a short time, after which, the mind and then the body shuts down. Given too much fear, for too long, each of us would die of fear, even if it was not actually accompanied by physical deprivation or abuse.
Yet, across North America, and particularly in Alberta, provincial and federal politicians have been practicing the politics of fear for more than 15 years. Their messages have been constant, insistent, and threatening. They have also been complemented by similar advertising and media messages.
We (Albertans) are told that we should be afraid of everyone living east of the Saskatchewan border, so let’s build a firewall. We should be afraid of Toronto (Ontario), because of their electoral clout nationally. We should be afraid of Ottawa, because it is out of touch. We should be afraid that we won’t be able to afford health care in 5 years (or n 10, or in 20). We should be afraid that we won’t be able to receive the pensions we’ve been contributing to. We should be afraid of immigrants bringing in strange perspectives, or practices that will undermine our culture.
For every fear, a politician or a party is apparently the answer. “Look to us”, the politicians (regardless of party) say, “we recognized the source of fear, and we can save you”.
It’s Sunday. Let me offer you an extended quote from Max Lucado, as found in his book, Fearless.
“They’re talking layoffs at work, slowdowns in the economy, flareups in the middle East, turnovers at headquarters, downturns in the housing market, upswings in global warming, breakouts of al Qaeda cells. Some demented dictator is collecting nuclear warheads the way others collect fine wines. A strain of swine flu is crossing the border. The plague of our day, terrorism, begins with the word terror. News programs disgorge enough hand-wringing information to warrant an advisory: “Caution: this news report is best viewed in the confines of an underground vault in Iceland.”
“We fear being sued, finishing last, going broke; we fear the mole on the back, the new kid on the block, the sound of the clock as it ticks us closer to the grave. We sophisticate investment plans, create elaborate security systems, and legislate stronger military, yet we depend on mood altering drugs more than any other generation in history. Moreover, ‘ordinary children today are more fearful than psychiatric patients were in the 1950s'”.
“Fear, it seems has taken a hundred-year lease on the building next door and set up shop. Oversize and rude, fear is unwilling to share the heart with happiness (or hope). Happiness (and hope) complies and leaves. Do you ever see the two together? Can we be happy (or hopeful) and afraid at the same time? Clear thinking and afraid? Confident and afraid? Merciful and afraid? No. Fear is the big bully in the high school hallway: brash, loud, and unproductive. For all the noise fear makes and room it takes, fear does little good.”
“Fear never wrote a symphony or poem, negotiated a peace treaty, or cured a disease. Fear never pulled a family out of poverty or a country out of bigotry. Fear never saved a marriage or a business. Courage did that. Faith did that. People who refused to consult or cower to their timidities did that. But fear itself? Fear herds us into a prison and slams the doors.”
I think Lucado has said it so well. Driven by the politics of fear, we can only shrink, become smaller, more defensive, less generous and less prosperous.
It is time for us to turn our backs on the politics of fear. It is time for us to break open the prison doors and walk out. It is time for us to adopt the politics of hope.