In the last Sustainist post, I shared aspects of “fear-exploiters” and how they use fear to get people to do things for their own benefit. As the people of the United States get closer to the November election, both campaigns will use fear-exploitation to get you to vote their way. I would like to give some suggestions on how to deal with these fear-projections and hopefully help you arrive at a sound decision for yourselves as to how you will vote.
Gavin de Becker in The Gift of Fear wrote, “What you fear is rarely what you think you fear – it is what you link to fear. Take anything about which you have ever felt profound fear and link it to each of the possible outcomes. When it is real fear, it will either be in the presence of danger, or it will link to pain or death. When we get a fear signal, our intuition has already made many connections. To best respond, bring the links into consciousness and follow them to their high-stakes destination – if they lead there.” This discipline of linking the fear to the high-stakes or worst-case destination does three things:
- It helps us determine whether the danger is imminent and therefore requires immediate action.
- Linking a fear to its most terrible destination helps us discern an unwarranted fear and therefore alleviate the anxiety that may be triggered by the fear.
- When we are able to link a fear to its ultimate horrible destination, we can begin to see the fear in its wider context.
Let’s take two cases and work this through. First case: Donald Trump said that if you vote for Hilary Clinton, she will take away your guns. When I try to link this to its most terrible outcome, here is what I come up with: If Clinton becomes president, she will appoint a supreme court judge who is anti-gun. When an anti-gun case comes up in the supreme court, the justices will vote for it and we would begin to lose our right to bear arms. Eventually, Clinton will get congress to amend the Second Amendment or get rid of it all together. When my guns are taken away, I would be without protection. So, when I am at work, and there is a mass shooting; I am dead.
In this scenario, there are many steps from Clinton getting elected as president to me getting killed because I don’t have my gun with me in a mass shooting. This should calm us down a bit because the imminent danger is not there and now we can do something about this fear that we have. Let’s look at this in a wider context. Why then do I have this fear of not being able to carry a gun? When I am able to identify my real concern, I then am able to do something constructive to address that. Perhaps it has nothing to do with who I vote for this November. Maybe, I should be doing something locally in my neighborhood community to foster safety for the whole community.
Second case: Hilary Clinton said that if you vote for Trump, he will abuse the president’s access to nuclear arms (the button) and starts World War III. Let’s use the same technique and link this to it most terrible outcome. If Trump becomes president, he will have direct access to the use of nuclear arms. If another head of state says something about him that he considers a put-down, he could react in a “strong” way and call for a nuclear attack. His military advisors warn him not to act so impulsively but he calls them “losers” and fires them. So he “pushes” the button and creates mass destruction and the other nations retaliate and send nuclear arms our way and I die.
Now, with any other candidate for president, this scenario sounds a little ridiculous. But with Trump, given what we know about him and his temperament, this scenario, for me, is not that far-fetched. And the distance between Trump getting elected and him pushing the nuclear arms button is very short. This, to me, constitutes a greater imminent danger for me and I feel the need to act on this because Trump is literally only a few votes away from becoming the president.
You can use the same technique to deal with every fear that these candidates and their campaigns throw your way. It’s even better if you work on each fear with a community of people. Try this technique on Trump’s proposal to build a wall or how we should fear Clinton because of her use of email. Try this technique on Clinton’s assertion that we will move backwards on all the gains we’ve made in civil rights and the economy if we vote for Trump. As you watch the debates and the final days of fear-exploitations leading to election day, don’t let these fears throw you to and fro. Stop, name the fear projected and do the discipline of linking the fear to it's worse case scenario and you will have a better idea of which fear to act on now.
Reflection Questions for Proper 21 (Year C)
Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 5:6-19
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