I have been thinking about fear and hope lately. In fact, I bounced between the two feelings for quite a long while in the months leading up to the election and I am still caught between them. But maybe that is as it should be. It seems that the bipartisan politics that I watched at play this autumn came to represent, at one end of the spectrum, FEAR, and at the other, HOPE.
There wasn’t much middle ground this election season. With fear and hope, this played out on two levels. The first was within me: one agenda or set of thoughts represented the way I did NOT want the world to continue to unfold (scared me shitless) while the other represented a particular set of ideals and practices that I hoped would be engaged to get us on the right track (filling me with a great sense of hope). The second level on which the fear/hope dichotomy played out was the ways in which fear and hope were used by the two campaigns as the central emotion upon which to gain votes: one candidate ran on a platform of FEAR (we must defend against terrorism, economic insecurity, protect democracy, etc. – everything is at risk); the other candidate ran on a platform of HOPE (Yes We Can; heal this nation, create the world we need and want – everything is at a stage of potential/possibility which we can capitalize on).
HOPE won. Yes We Can.
But what does this mean?
Like the increasingly divisive nature of our two-party system that polarizes many of the world’s most pressing issues into black and white when there is abundant gray area, hope and fear became greatly removed from one another within my own psyche. But as I reflect now, they are not so far from one another. It’s just a matter of how they are framed. Both fear and hope seem to have a set of basically similar or equal characteristics.
–Both fear and hope are internal. (Fear and hope are both emotions and thus internal.)
–Both fear and hope are ultimately about desire. (Example 1: Desire=end world poverty. Fear=that it continues. Hope=that it is overcome; Example 2: Desire=to live. Fear=death, stop living. Hope=continue living in good health.)
–Both are anticipatory; have a future orientation. (We fear future terrorist attacks; not the ones that already happened. We hope for a better world; we don’t hope that the world was a better place, even if we wish it were.)
Both fear and hope are internal, desire-based and future-oriented. Often we hope and fear over the same things. For example, I have a deep desire that we get the hell out of Iraq. I desperately HOPE that we will. I also FEAR that we won’t. Hope is positive; fear is negative. Or so it would seem. But I’ve recently read a most excellent book that introduces a new frame for fear (among other new frames) that I would like to explore here. I recently read Frances Moore Lappé’s (author of Diet for a Small Planet, among others) Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity, and Courage in a World Gone Mad. In it, she talks about fear as a neutral emotion.
When in Nairobi, Kenya, Lappé met with reverend Timothy Njoya who, years ago, gave a pro-democracy speech in a particularly politically corrupt time in the country’s history. He explained to her what happened shortly afterwards. Seven assailants were sent to his home. His fingers were sliced off; his gut was slashed open. Face on the floor, he knew he would die soon. So what did he do? He gave away his most treasured possessions to his torturers. His favorite Bible; his library; and so on and so forth. How? Why?
“Fear is an energy that comes from inside us, not outside. It’s neutral. So we can channel it into fear, paranoia, or euphoria, whatever we choose.” Njoya hopped from his chair and crouched like a lion, “When a lion sees prey or predator, it senses fear first. But instead of lunging blindly, in defense or attack, it recoils.” He moved back leaning on his back leg and crouching even lower. “The lion pauses a moment, targets his energies, then he springs.” … “We can do the same. We can harness our would-be fears, harmonize our energies, and channel them into courage.” In his act of generosity transcending fear, he so moved his would-be murderers that they rushed him to the hospital where he was saved.
I think the defining line between hope and fear is courage. As pure energy, both fear and hope are neutral. They are the same. In answering the question of what to do with that enlivening emotion that is internal, based in our desires and the potential to realize or not realize them, we choose either fear or hope. Hope, it seems to me, is courageous in that it suggests rising to the challenge rather than allowing the challenge to run its course. Hope is about potential; fear is about consequences.
The emotion is internal which means it is ours to control. It therefore creates possibility. We choose how we frame it. So whether I feel hope or fear in a given moment, I don’t think it matters. It seems that I have no one to call on but myself to channel that energy. If it is internal, if I simply direct my hope at Barack Obama, whether or not he is everything I pray for, he is not inside of me. He is not me.
As I reflect on the election, I am increasingly aware that fear/hope is within me and as I feel its rise, it is my responsibility to channel that energy for the good. It is an energy that creates possibility. It becomes a matter of how I frame it and how I channel the possibility that the energy summons.
My fear and hope did not end last Tuesday. In fact, it surprised me when my fear/hope increased. When we elected Obama, many of us rolled up our sleeves to “Barack the Vote” – we channeled our fear/hope, summoned our resources and involved those around us. Now that we’ve done that, how will we channel the fear/hope that remains, even increases? What new frames must we create? Will we choose fear or hope? Will we recognize ourselves as possibility and summon our resources? What’s next? It is up to me, it is up to you, it is up to us. Yes We Can. I hope.