Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Wednesday, 30 August 2006

The Culture of Fear

So, what do you do if, a large man is sitting next to you on the Seattle bus grabs your hand to shake it, but for a couple seconds too long, and then as you're leaving, yells out, "You're beautiful!" ?

I said, "Thank you."

I was coming back from a seminar on how to sub with an temp agency I've repeatedly joined over the years. I'll not say which one out of respect for the agency, not because they did anything wrong, but because what I'm posting could be construed as negative. I've recently been contemplating some of what Jim Wallis says in God's Politics, and my friend Aimee's blog.

We were told some of the guidelines for teaching. A couple new ones caught my eye. You may now not touch a child. At all. Oh, at the high-school level, I can shake hands, if I'm offered a hand. But no pats on the shoulder for a job well done. You also may not compliment a student's shirt, or anything like that. Why? Another student might not be able to afford that shirt, and then feel sad.

I'm missing Morocco. As long as the student was male (considering the Arab culture), I could even freely hug a student, and it was no problem. I fully agree that children need to be protected, both from predators, and also from feeling bad. A teacher need to be careful of what they say, so as not to cause injury to other students. But how far do we go? I'm reminded of a couple pseudo-therapists that ran a small group in our pre-field orientation we had before going to Morocco. They were fully immersed in American culture, and learned that I would be living with an American family in Morocco that included small children. They warned the family that they should be careful, not having me hug the children or spend time alone with them. Why? I'm a single male. These small group leaders were operating out of the American cultural standards, and out of fear. In Morocco, this would not be an issue. After I heard about these suggestions, the result was an estranged relationship with the children, for fear usually leads to broken relationships. Doubly hard if your love language is touch, as mine is.

This temp agency I went to is not to blame for their guidelines. They could easily be sued if they didn't have them in place. Rather, we face a culture of fear throughout America.

With these guidelines the teacher in America is reduced to saying general platitudes, without touch, though most therapists would tell us that touch is a key part of showing love to children. Combine this with No Child Left Unrecruited, and I do think we would be better served with robots rather than human teachers under the current guidelines. Everyone is supposed to be teaching the same things, to meet the same test standards. They may not touch. They may not make personal compliments about dress. Seriously, couldn't we program computers to do the job? We could have them say every once in a while, "Good job, Johnny- you got an A." You could even make the voice sound human- no need for the Will Robinson style robot. We fear the students falling behind; we fear the rest of the world passing the U.S.; we fear our children being molested by their guardians and those who were supposed to protect them; we fear their feelings being hurt- and quite suddenly our educational policies have been built upon the edifice of fear, rather than learning, or even love.

At what point did we start to put fear on the pedestal to worship? When did it become possible for the government to issue a "blanket alert" about a "general threat", and that would suffice? It's one thing indeed to protect ourselves from serious threats, like stopping the use of SUVs to keep the earth from warming up and flooding. Or keeping track of sexual predators so we know if they move into our neighborhood. But it's quite another when we do everything to avoid the possibility of the image of a threat, even before the person is known to have been a threat. But when FDR said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, George II took this as prescriptive. It's not as if the current president is the source of all blame in this- he is operating in the same mindset that we all have. Whether or not I should date a particular woman, the sole reason I didn't give her my number was fear. And the result- less relationship.

I knew a guy once who said there is no fear in love. That the opposite of love isn't hate, it's fear. Yes, we are all a lot safer if we are behind high walls, in full-body contact suits, and never interact with anyone else. But what of the quality of our relationships? My brother Kent, a therapist, tells me that since the internet was invented the number of close relationships the average American has has halved. The more we withdraw, the safer we are, with fewer relationships. Yes, all possibility of the child being abused is removed if the teacher doesn't touch them. But what other possibilities are removed as well? What of the possibility of real caring love being expressed? Yes, if no child is complimented in any way specially, other children won't be hurt. But is there not then a loss of personal relationship?

My dad used to talk about the fortress mentality, where everyone had bars on the windows because it was the murder capitol of LA, with 11 murders in one square mile in a year, right near where I lived in Venice Beach. The bars kept people out, and kept people in. You didn't approach your neighbors because of the bars; you didn't feel you could approach your neighbors because of the bars on your own windows. So we made it a point to leave the door unlocked, so we could freely let anyone walk in, and use our stuff, in order to build more relationships.

Why is it that Jesus first words to groups, and angels' first words to individuals, were "Do not fear."? And yet we are commanded to fear God. I think this is because fear is not negative in itself. It is the type of fear, and the object of the fear. A general dread lacks hope. A feeling of the numinous, directed at God, is an entirely different thing. And so our feeling of fear- of sexual predators, of terrrorists, of killer bees, all of it- is a form of idolatry. For we have placed Something Else on our alters, and not God, and that Something Else is now what runs our lives.

It is not enough to say that when we operate out of fear, we become paralyzed, and can not go as far, as fast. That may be true, but it is not enough. When we operate out of fear, we pursue something that the Bible states is the opposite of love, and therefore worse than hate. Jesus was all about increasing relationship, not destroying it. I would suggest the way we can know that we have created an idol is simple: did our fear lead to an increase in the depth and breadth of relationships, or a decrease?

8 comments:

Sara said...

Jedidiah;
Once again, you are giving me quite a bit to think about. I'll be sharing this with a teacher friend of mine...Is not the Harris principle also related to fear?

@bdul muHib said...

Harris Principle?

Sara said...

Joshua Harris's thesis.

@bdul muHib said...

Oh, yes- I quite agree.

drh said...

Did you kiss Joshua Harris good-bye?

@bdul muHib said...

Gag me with a spoon and barf out. Judas kiss maybe.

Sara said...

You do mix metaphors beautifully!

sandie brock said...

Fear is not in the nature of God, there is NO darkness in Him. The enemy thrives in darkness and deciet. All fear opens doors to darkness as we are choosing not to walk in the light. I do believe that we can walk in an absence of fear, but it takes facing the fears, revealing the darkness, and letting the light pour in. "If God is for us, who can be against us." Do we truly believe, truly trust? If we don't our fear is exposed and leads us to areas that still need the touch of God.