If you sit home and watch the news all day long, or spend your time on Twitter or Facebook passing memes back and forth, the world can seem like a very frightening place. There are school shootings almost daily in America. Seems like someone is always blowing something up, or making plans to do so.
We, Americans, have been indoctrinated since before we could speak that America is the greatest country on earth.
And I used to believe that, wholeheartedly. As a child, I believed it fiercely.
Honestly, it serves governments well for their people to believe wholeheartedly that their country, their system of governing is the greatest in all the world. If you didn’t believe your country was the greatest in the world, would you allow yourself to be sent off to war?
Any country that wants to defend itself against those who would boss everyone in the world has to convince its people to die for it. Of course that’s how things like the Arab Spring happen. When people begin to understand that the way they’ve always thought might not be the truth. That maybe Israel isn’t any more special than Palestine. Maybe we all come from the same Creator. Maybe that Creator loves us all equally and can’t understand why we don’t love each other the way we’ve been instructed to love.
The truth is there are plenty of people who don’t want us to see others as like us. It serves their purposes to make us fear one another.
If we saw the world as a place of beauty, a glorious place, we’d be less inclined to destroy it. We’d want to preserve it, cherish it.
Cherish each other.
Be like the children, Jesus said.
He didn’t have in mind the bullies when he said that.
Jesus was talking about the fearless way in which children see the world.
Children love to be with one another. It doesn’t matter if they are just standing around talking, or running across a field, or sitting in the dirt. The important thing to children is that they are together.
Children can make almost any outing fun. They are eager to explore. If they fear others, it’s only because they’ve been taught to be afraid of others. That fear is something that has been cultivated in them.
My sister has been a preschool director for over 30 years. She maintains that a child that is allowed to be loved upon by many people from an early age will embrace the world as a safe place. But if a child is raised up with an overprotective parent, one who doesn’t allow others into that child’s life, that child will grow up fearful of others.
In other words, the more a child is loved upon, the more a child will grow to love others.
I think that applies to adults as well. The more people we include in our lives, the bigger our love circle, the more connected we feel to the world, to each other.
But fear can cause us to exclude others, to consider them a threat. The more we feel threatened by those who don’t look like us, don’t speak like us, don’t worship like us, the smaller our world becomes. The smaller the world becomes for us, the more afraid we are. It begats this vicious cycle of fear.
Fear is a great motivator. It is perhaps the greatest motivator. It is the basis of all wars.
Ernest Hemingway knew something about the atrocities of wars and how fear is used to manipulate people of all nations. Hemingway valued courage in all forms. He did not suffer cowards very well. Nor did he suffer those who used fear as a tool to manipulate the masses. Hemingway believed that we must live like Jesus admonished, as children in search of adventures. Certainly, that’s the approach he took to his own life.
Undoubtedly that’s why he was able to make friends wherever he traveled. Hemingway didn’t see the world as a place to fear. He saw it as a wonder to be explored. Hemingway didn’t fear people who didn’t look like him or speak like him. He saw all people as a story waiting to be explored.
“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them,” Hemingway said.
Go for a walk with somebody you don’t know. Invite them out for a coffee. Say hello at the marketplace. Ask how they are doing, and pay attention when they answer you.
“When people talk listen completely. Most people never listen,” Hemingway said. “The fun of talk is to explore.”
If Hemingway thought people didn’t listen to each other in the 1930s, imagine what he’d think of us now, what with Social Media and 24-hour scare tactic rhetoric coming out of Congress and the White House.
One does not have to but walk around Pamplona, the place Hemingway loved so much and made so available to the masses in his novel A Sun Also Rises, to know that when people fear others nothing good is going to come from that.
One can walk the streets of Pamplona and read about those who were executed under the terrorist regime of a fascist leader, who instilled fear into his political base, repressed free speech and freedom of thought, who insisted that immigrants were a threat, and urged his followers to distrust anyone who did not fully support him.
Yes. Well, that’s what happens when people make power grabs. Somebody ends up getting hurt, badly. Lots of someones, usually.
Hemingway understood the dangers of a government that used rhetoric to incite people to turn on each other. He’d witnessed the bloodshed first-hand. “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, no matter how justified, is not a crime,” Hemingway said.
Collateral damage is always a crime. It’s just governments of all stripes like to dismiss those crimes as benign. Anyone who has ever been a victim of war knows better, however.
If only we could come to grasp the importance of not fearing one another, but to understand that we are all just making this journey of life together here on the earth that has been so gracious to us all, so welcoming, so nurturing, despite how we have mistreated her. “The world is a fine place and very much worth fighting for,” Hemingway said.
One only need to watch the sun also rising in Pamplona to understand why Hemingway felt that the world was worth fighting for. To feel the breeze blowing across the fields, to hear the robins call out “Wake up! Wake up!” to each other, to feel the soft embrace of the loving God who created us all, and to be reminded in those moments that the world is a place of beauty, a place to be explored and enjoyed.
Fear, not each other, is our greatest enemy. It brings out the worst in us all.
Befriending others is an act of courage. It requires us all to put aside our worries, our anxieties, our selfishness, and our cowardliness to embrace each other and the world the way a child does, as a place to explore.
As Hemingway said, “The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, and the capacity for sacrifice.”
We don’t get any do-overs.
This is it. We either live in courage or in fear. The choice is ours.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of BURDY (Mercer University Press).