When my older son was about 4 years old, he feared going to the bathroom alone at night. He thought there were trolls in there that would get him as soon as he closed the door. So one day we played a game. I got into the bathroom, closed the door and turned the light off with him standing outside. I talked with him through the door and he responded back. I stayed there for about 3-4 minutes. Then I came out and said tada, no one in there! Then I said let’s switch now. He looked at me for reassurance and then stepped into the dark room. Then we talked through the door. I asked him if he was doing okay and he said yes. After 3-4 minutes he came out and said yeah, no one in there. He completely lost fear of darkness after that.
We fear what we don’t understand.
What is fear? It is a mechanism built into our system for survival. It is a physical experience or feeling that makes us respond to a perceived external threat. It is a mechanism for self-preservation.
Although this started out as a threat to our physical being, in the course of our evolution, this also included the threat to our own assumptions of superiority and power and even to our own ego. The response to fear could be fight or flight. If the perception that the stimulus, or The Other is bigger than our perception of self, then it would be flight. If it the other way round, then it would be fight. Either way, we don’t trust The Other.
Fear breeds mistrust and eventually hatred. More often than not, hatred begets crime.
When we hate someone or something, it is always a good idea to check if we fear that something or someone. When we do that, we almost always discover there is a reason why we hate. It is usually a fear that it or they, will either directly or indirectly harm us.
This is at the root of a lot of division in the society right now. Across the spectrum of all human experience with one-on-one relationships at one end, to wars between nations on the other, fear is the key factor. There is any number of agents fueling this fear. Those in power, or those who want power, feed fear in order to be in control. The media, the arms lobby, our social and religious values and beliefs, our own repeated experiences of being at the receiving end of the aggression – any of these could keep our fears rooted and breed hatred toward The Other. At a micro level, The Other is a person who is questioning our own beliefs and values, and at the macro level The Other is a community or nation that threatens our notions of superiority and power.
This also brings about another interesting but avoidable human behavior. When we fear someone or something, we tend to generalize and lump all people from that family or community or nation or religion or language as not worthy of our trust. Our mistrust is so great that the even though we may not have had personal experiences that cause fear, we still hate the other. People of a certain color, race, caste, religion, language, region, nation, political affiliation, sexual orientation, section of society, MUST NOT BE trusted hence must be reviled. THEY pose a serious threat to US.
Is there a way out of this vicious cycle of threat-fear-mistrust-hate-crime? I will answer that question, but I am keen to hear what you think.
What do you think?