Avoid fear—that’s what people like Pat Robertson are trying to do when they make pronouncements about natural disasters being linked to sin. The logic circle is that since he hasn’t sinned, nothing bad will ever happen to him. Neat little circle. Too bad it doesn’t work.
Tragedy doesn’t work on a direct cause-effect mechanism in every case. We feel so much safer when we can make connections between someone’s choice and their tragedy, but all illness, sudden death and natural disasters are not easily explained by a pattern of behaviors.
We try to make sense of everything in our world and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s human in fact. But once we make judgments about other people, we’re getting into dangerous territory. Once we try to assuage our anxiety by indicting someone else…or whole groups of someone elses, we are wading into the same stream that carried the massacred bodies of Native Americans, Jews, Catholics, and Tutsi’s.
Let’s just say that some things happen and we don’t know why. Oh, but then, they could happen to us, right? And that scares us to death. Well, it scares me anyway. Maybe there’s no one else out there who feels anxious about earthquakes, violence, sudden death, losing a loved one. We try to avoid feeling scared by setting ourselves apart…on some island where the guys in the white hats always win and the guys in the black hats have no redeeming qualities. We’re white hats, of course.
Here’s the problem with avoiding fear…it chases you through your life and bites you in the ass like my mother-in-law’s pomeranian used to chase everyone across the kitchen. Got that picture firmly in your mind? Yes, I said Pomeranian…not Rottweiler, German Shepherd or Pit Bull. Just like fear, when we stop to really examine it, it isn’t as big and scary as the noise it’s making.
We blamed my mother-in-law—she didn’t train him well and coddled him too much, but guess what? Blaming her didn’t do a thing to stop the dog from biting people. We got angry at the dog, but that only escalated his aggression. We made judgments about him being bad and evil and incorrigible, but that did nothing to calm him down. The only thing that gave anyone any peace in that kitchen was to plant their feet, look Jerry directly in the eye and tell him to STOP! Once we clearly communicated our expectations, Jerry calmed down.
And that’s the only thing that works on fear too.
I’ve been scared about so many things in my life, some of them real and some imagined. I used to be so scared about everything that I had panic attacks and to show you how crafty fear can be, I then became afraid of the panic attacks! The only thing that pulled me out of it was to stop trying to run from it. I had to face it; admit my fear, embrace it, look it in the face and tell it to stop. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t quick; it never is easy or quick to change a habit of the mind or of the heart, but it’s necessary. It’s a process and a constant choice. It’s a commitment I have to make to myself every time I feel afraid. I’d love to tell you that I’ve become brave and fearless since then, but it isn’t true. If we were comparing me to the Winnie-the-Pooh characters, I’d be Piglet. You know, the one who follows Pooh, but does so with trepidation and a lot of anxiety? Still, I’ve learned to manage it and I couldn’t manage it before I named it, embraced it as part of me and stared it down. Here’s a secret: fear can’t live under scrutiny. Go ahead, try it.
Ask your fear some questions: Are you real or am I imagining you? Are you a big, fierce dog likely to destroy me or a pomeranian named Jerry? Am I wasting energy and precious moments of my life feeling fearful about things that are beyond my control? How fast would you disappear if I became the Alpha Dog?
I don’t want to run across the kitchen anymore, sliding into the nearest chair to protect myself from the razor sharp teeth of a little fur ball with no manners. Jerry needed to learn the difference between a real and imagined threat. Becoming alpha-dog did that for him just like becoming alpha dog does that to fear.
Answer those questions; face the fear no matter who’s peddling it; become an alpha dog and stop running across your kitchen.
Don’t give fear the power to write your life.