Addressing the REAL feeling of Fear
I grew up in a multi-cultural neighborhood and went to elementary school with children whose ancestry hailed from several continents. This experience, along with my parents open mindedness about our friends and neighbors gave me a gift. This gift was that of enchantment with, as well as interest in, those who may have looked or lived differently from me. Honestly, looking back, we were just children at a school and in a neighborhood who played and worked together. There was no fear or separateness.
I never experienced any kind of discrimination until I was in high school. We had moved and I was different–mostly because I hadn’t lived there all my life. A few weeks into the quarter, some of my new friends in my freshman PE class decided I was not the kind of friend they should have. And so they never spoke to me again. Ever. And that was the beginning of four years of classes together. It was sad at first and then a bit revealing as their fear kept them at bay despite my friendships over the next four years with many of their other acquaintances. Odd, but it happened.
Why did these girls do that? They were “nice girls,” why did they literally shun me because I was a little different? I think my experience as a child can give us a few clues. I think these girls stopped speaking to me out of fear. I think they were pressured to believe that being my friend was not a “safe” thing to do. Whether or not their actions make any sense, they were afraid and so they walked away.
I also think that their feelings and their reactions are not an isolated incident. I think fear drives plenty of misguided actions and reactions in our country. Some much more violent and unkind. Although this may not be something to be proud of, I think it is real and thus we need to acknowledge it. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. We do not have to be afraid. We can find ways to move beyond this real feeling of fear and claim something much more constructive.
So, how can we move beyond the real feeling of fear to one of acceptance and then love? If you are afraid of someone, or some type of someone, get to know them. Reach out and say hello. Ask kind questions and truly care about the answers that you receive. Look them in the eye and truly show that you care. Maybe they have been afraid of you. Maybe you can help the fear dissipate in both of your lives. Maybe you can share a part of yourself with them and help them feel less fearful about you.
Look around you. Reach out to those you don’t know. Say hello to your neighbor who hails from a different cultural background than you. Share a holiday meal with someone who may not celebrate the same as you. If you live in a more homogenous community, find ways to get to know others who might be a bit different from you. Go online and read about those who you might worry about that you do not understand. Find ways to reach out and care about those who are different from you.
Because in the end, we are all Americans. America is stronger when we reach out and work together. We campaign for Lady Liberty when we work together to create an environment of lifting up all who are around us, regardless of differences. Our melting pot makes America the best it can be.