This is the final post on a 3-part-series about fear.  Part one is here.  Part two is here.  I recommend you read both first – because it will really help to put what I’m about to say in to a much better perspective.

I live in a country (South Africa) where many people live in fear.

We have seen some tumultuous times and it hasn’t been an easy ride.  Our country has an embarrassing history of apartheid and racism.  We were raised to see the differences in others – long before searching for any common ground that we may have shared.

Apartheid came to an end in 1994 when Nelson Mandela was finally released from prison and became our president.

As a teenager, I had been taught to fear this man.  The schools that I attended… our curriculum… what I read in the newspapers… what I watched on TV… what I heard my family, friends and neighbours discuss – all pointed to the fact that Nelson Mandela was a violent terrorist, a man who “hated whites”… and, if he was ever released from prison, there would be civil war – and we would all suffer the consequences.

Of course, none of this turned out to be true.  And Nelson Mandela exercised a tremendous amount of grace and forgiveness and remains, to this day, a hero to most South Africans (of all colours).

My point, however, is about the fear.

We were taught to fear… and that fear continues to haunt our nation.  Even though Apartheid is long gone, our fears continue to lock us up behind high walls and fenced-in suburbs… our fears keep us segregated… our fears make us suspicious of people – and especially of people who are different to us.

In our country, people fear other people… and often, we assume the worst about people before even bothering to meet them, listen to them or hear their stories.

I think that there are many kinds of fear… but “Fear of the Unknown” is probably one of the most predominant fears… and in my opinion, the one that ROBS us of some of life’s most beautiful experiences.

Fear of the Unknown – a fear of places or people who are different from us…. fear of those are a different colour to us, or grew up in a different culture to us, or speak a different language, or have a different sexual orientation, or have different religious beliefs, or who who have features or hair texture that differs to ours, or dress differently to the way we dress, or who have a different kind of social or political system… or … or… or…

I find it such a pity that so many people (around the world – not just here in South Africa) deliberately segregate and separate themselves into little “Safe Groups”… simply because they’re fearful of – and wary of – The Other.

I remember how I, as a young, white Christian growing up in Benoni….  only ever hung around with others who were exactly the same as me.  I remember how I used to fear the Muslims… and would give a wide berth to women wearing the hijab or a burqa – because I feared them (firstly)… and because I assumed the worst about them (i.e.:  “They’re gossiping about me right now”…  “They hate me”… “They want to convert me to their religion”… “They think I’m evil”… “They want to convert the whole country and the whole world to their ways”… “They have a religious agenda”… etc)

It never seemed to occur to me that they were simply normal women… just like my mother… visiting the supermarket, buying groceries for their families (and they probably didn’t even notice me in the first place).

That’s another thing about fear:  it always assumes the worst.

It assumes the worst about situations… it assumes the worst about people… and it assumes the worst about the intentions of people.

  • The black man who walks past a white woman in the street.  He shoots her a sideways glance.  She immediately thinks:  “He wants to rape me”.
  • A straight woman, Beth, who is introduced to a lesbian colleague, Terry.  Terry  smiles warmly at Beth during the introduction.  “She’s coming on to me!”, panics Beth.
  • And need I even mention how many people feel when someone of Middle-Eastern descent boards the same aeroplane as them?

A lot of this has to do with stereotyping – yes.  But I still think that the root of all this is fear:  fear of anyone who doesn’t look / think / believe / behave the same way as us.

THE OTHER

I find it so sad that we deliberately remove ourselves from The Other.  I find it frustrating.  Some of my very best experiences in life have been in the company of The Other.

Like some of these….

I took these photos (above)… in Cuba, Nigeria, Zambia, Mozambique and Kenya.  The best part wasn’t just visiting a new country… it was meeting the people… visiting their homes… listening to their stories… tasting their food… and (in many cases) trying to communicate (because not everyone in the world speaks our language!).

I absolutely love… and celebrate… the colourful, beautiful diversity of human beings in the world… and I find it such a terrible shame that there are people who seem to loathe diversity – and would much prefer the world to be full of people more like “them”.

I don’t want the world to be full of people like me.  At all.

WHAT IS FEAR?

Fear is a feeling.

And to many people, the thing that combats or quietens fear is security.  But what is “security”?  It’s the same as fear – it’s just a feeling!  How often do you hear people talk about a “sense of security” or “feeling safe”.  Security is smoke and mirrors – it’s not real – it’s not concrete… and just like fear, it robs us of life!  A life spent in the pursuit of security will rob you – it’s the worst kind of Wild Goose Chase.

We keep ourselves locked up in our “Safe Zones” with our “Safe People”… and we feel secure.

I have heard and read more than just a few comments and posts where people from other countries have expressed a negative response to South Africa (a country they’ve never visited).  “I’d never go to Johannesburg!  The crime rate is terrible!  You’re an irresponsible parent if you take your children to visit that city!”…  and, on the flip side of the coin, here in Johannesburg (where I live… with my husband and my 2 children)… we’re occasionally lectured by our family members who say:  “Haiti??  How can you go to a dangerous place like that?”.… or “Nigeria?  You want to take your children to Nigeria?  Are you mad?  It’s dangerous!”

And on it goes.

Fear.

The people in the “Safe Places” of small town America are fearful of places like Johannesburg.  The people in the “Safe Places” of suburban Johannesburg are fearful of Haiti and Nigeria.  The people in the “Safe Places” of Haiti are fearful of England… and so on.

And when I write “Safe Places” – I’m talking about the illusion of safety and security.  I’m talking about the comfort zones that we all enjoy.  I’m talking about the “safe” place where we surround ourselves with people and things that are familiar to us… similar to us – and therefore, “safe”.

I also think that fear of death plays a big role in all of this.

And it ROBS us of life!

Some South Africans have fled to other countries because they fear being shot or murdered.  But does living in New Zealand make you “safe”?  It might make you feel safe (and yes, there’s something to be said for that)… but does it mean that you’re actually “safe”??

(The recent earthquake in Christchurch being a case in point).

You could move to the safest country… live in the safest home… with the world’s best alarm system… and security guards at your front door… and you could still slip on your bathroom tiles, fall, crack your skull… and die.  Or you could die of disease.  Or you could die in a car accident (a far more probable statistic than being shot).

There are many ways to die – and we’re all going to meet our end one day… no matter what we do… no matter how much we try to protect ourselves.

There’s a well-known little quote which says:  “Everyone dies.  Not everyone lives”.

I am concerned about how many people allow their fears… (whether it’s a fear of the unknown, a fear of “other” people or a fear of death)… to rob them of life.  Life is a precious gift.  It’s precious… it’s short… and none of us are getting any younger.  Why live in fear?  It doesn’t protect your life – it ROBS you of it!

Here’s a few suggestions of ways to embrace life and live without fear (tried and tested – all of them!):

  • Stop watching or reading all the bad news!  Fact: Bad news sells.  If you want a reliably inaccurate understanding of what the world is really like… then keep obsessively watching the propaganda on TV!
  • Understand that people… in spite of all our differences… are actually very similar.  We all love… laugh… cry… yearn and dream.  We all need food, shelter and most of us simply want to get on with life and do what’s best for our families and children.  Stop searching for the differences in other human beings.  Instead – acknowledge and celebrate our many similarities.
  • Celebrate the diversity of the world’s different people / cultures / belief systems / colours / lifestyles.  How boring  and bland the world would be if we were all the same!
  • Whenever you make an automatic negative assumption about somebody else… stop yourself and say:  “Now that’s not really true, is it?  I don’t even know that person.  How can I assume such an ugly thing about them?”
  • Travel!  Travel!  Travel!  And not just to the “safe”, predictable places either!  Go to countries and places that are very different from your home town.  Visit people and communities who are different than you!  Share a meal with them… listen to their stories and their dreams…  encourage your children to play with theirs… you’ll quickly realise that MOST people (in spite of what the media keeps trying to tell us)… are GOOD.  People are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers – just like you.
  • Volunteer!  Get your hands dirty and help others less fortunate.  It’s like a healing balm for the soul… and so much more.
  • Deliberately remove yourself from the company of negative, fearful people who constantly whinge and complain about the state of the world / nation / local community… and who constantly criticise and attack The Other.  Negativity and fear are contagious.
  • LOVE… and let live.

PS:  And here’s a different take on fear, written by an American friend who is a part of our online travelling families community. Well worth a read.