What do we do with fear?

Published 12:50 pm Saturday, July 23, 2016

by Andrew Book

With presidential politics in full swing around us, we have discovered that there are many more things we need to fear than we realized before. Donald Trump took to the stage this week to lay out all of the people he thinks we need to fear (of course he has the solution). I expect Hillary Clinton will, in the upcoming weeks, offer her own list of things we need to fear (with her own solutions). Simply listening to the speeches by our presidential candidates is enough to inspire a panic attack as we hear about all the different people and concerns that might, at any moment, jump out and end our lives in some horrible manner. We really need to vote for that candidate so that we can have someone to address our fears!

I expect by this point you can tell I am being more than a little sarcastic. If you listen to some of the rhetoric around the presidential election you would be afraid to walk out of your own door because surely there is someone or something simply waiting to end your life.

Of course, the vast majority of people in our country walk out of their doors each day and have nothing horrible happen to them. Those people who truly have something to fear from the communities around them don’t need a presidential candidate to tell them that they are unsafe — they experience it in their lives. The reality of life in this country, however, does not stop our candidates from spending much of their time telling us that we need to be afraid. Their reason is rooted not in truth but in politics.

The reason politicians want to make you afraid is that fear is a powerful motivator. If we think we are in danger, we are going to act. Being safe is one of the most basic desires in our lives and seeking safety will motivate us every time. In the case of politics if you can make someone afraid of those things you want to address, you can get their vote. If you make enough people afraid, you can win an election.

Fear is a powerful motivator, but it is also an emotion that can be managed. In the same way that a parent might open the closet for a child who is concerned about the “monster” who is hiding there, we have the power to take control of our own fear, to see if those fears have a basis in reality and then respond appropriately.

We live in the information age when access to information is readily available all around us, so it turns out that we don’t have to act out of fear because a candidate tells us to. We can take a few moments to go online and search out our fear and discover whether it is real. We can talk with the people around us (and even local law enforcement) and discover what the issues are in our community. We can face our fears equipped with knowledge about the realities in our world.

Fear is not a bad thing. It is fear that makes us jump out of the road when a truck is speeding toward us, but that fear only makes sense if there is a truck coming down the road. So, when a candidate (whose primary goal is to get your vote) tells you to fear the truck, take a moment to look at the road. Is there a truck? If there is a truck, then move! If there is no truck, then maybe you just learned a lesson about who gets to control your fears.

Fear does not always respond to logic. There are times we are afraid and no matter how often we tell ourselves “I don’t need to be afraid” we still fear. Fear is a deep-seated emotion that cannot always be reasoned away. But even if fear will not leave, we still need to look long and hard at our fears and ask, “should I let this fear control me?” “Should I choose to act based on what I am afraid of?” “Should I choose to vote based on my fears?” We always get to control our actions even if we don’t get to choose our fears.

I do not know your fears, but I know that you have fears. We all have them. The “toughest” men I know have fears (though we like to pretend otherwise). The politicians around us want to use your fears to manipulate you. My hope is that you wouldn’t let them. You get to choose what you do with the fears in your heart.

Take time to be honest with yourself about what you fear. Look at your fears. Acknowledge them. Study them to know if they are good fears to have. Is there really a truck speeding down the road?

Once you can see you fears, decide what to do with them. Is there a presidential candidate that can help address a valid fear? If so, vote for that person. But don’t vote (or do anything in life) simply because someone has told you that you should be afraid!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org.