What do you fear? Why? What is your response to it?
I ask because I’ve been reflecting on a conversation this week with a woman in her late 70s who started in on a riff about the inauguration of President Obama and then on blacks in general. All of the remarks were derogatory and racist.
First of all, I didn’t how to respond. I learned years ago that to answer unfounded emotion with reason would only fan the emotional flame and quite likely burn any bridge of communication. If that bridge of connection is destroyed, there is not going to be any meaningful conversation nor any hope of altering another’s perspective. I’ve witnessed, too often, two sides screaming their point of view at each other, each believing that sheer volume, in both decibels and information, would sway the other’s point of view. I’ve never seen either side budge.
Second, I know that anger is seldom rational. Because anger is usually based on fear and fear is an emotional response, telling people that their anger is unfounded or unreasonable is fruitless. Nothing this woman said held a shred of logic. It would have been laughable, but it wasn’t funny. She was holding onto anger, hatred and bitterness. All because of fear. The few minutes I had with her didn’t really allow me the time to ask her about her fears and begin to address the underlying causes of them. But, as I’ve said, it did get me to thinking about my own anxiety.
I know when my anxiety level is high because I carry my stress in my gut and lower back. When that occurs, I know it’s time to, quite literally, walk away.
But what is the deep, root cause? Nearer the surface, I know that the daily headlines about the Dow tumbling or more layoffs being announced adds to the collective fear that most people share these days. But down deeper, I believe there is a fear that most folks have in common — the fear of personal insignificance.
I heard an interesting quote yesterday. “Money is a primary means of keeping score for people who have a shortage of talent.” But money is not, of course, the only means of scoring one’s significance. There’s one’s position on the organizational chart, one’s influence upon or association with those who are in any position of power or, in general, how one is viewed in relation to others in any community or tribe. With over 200 million blogs on the Internet, apparently there are a lot of people who are hoping that someone will read their thoughts and find significance in them. With so many folks piling up “friends” on their social network pages and sending out 50+ “tweets” per day, it appears there is no dearth of individuals crying out for a recognition that what they have to say has value to someone. (Is the act of posting these thoughts for you to read my cry for significance?)
Which brings me back to fear. What is it that I fear when the phone doesn’t sound for a couple of days or a client doesn’t reply to an e-mail posthaste? Do I really fear that I’m going to wind up living under a bridge sharing a bottle with my buddies around a pile of burning tires? Or do I fear that I’ve lost significance in the professional community I serve? That without the next job scheduled on the calendar, I have no value to offer my fellow man?
For the woman I was talking with, being white had once held status and power in her world. Now the blacks she knew were getting “uppity.” That presented a threat, a threat to her significance. But rather than feeling anger, I felt sad. Sad that her fear was leaving her increasingly isolated from relationships that could bring abundance and deeper significance. And sad too, as I reflected on my own fears, that I was allowing them to limit the scope of my opportunities to serve and share my talents within my community.
What are your fears? What are you angry about? Is it based on fear? How is it holding you back from giving? Serving? How can I encourage you to step out from the grip of fear?