the universal politics of fear

February 21, 2019

I recently visited Hong Kong for the first time. I went there to teach at a university, and before going, I read a CNN article on some of the restrictions Hong Kong is starting to face as China slowly exerts more and more control. According to the article, the University of California school system recently advised their students and scholars traveling to Hong Kong to not use certain messaging apps while there due to monitoring activity. China tends to be quite wary of academics, and many communications are no longer private.

So, when I arrived, I asked my university professor friend if she had any concerns about China. I told her about the article I had read, and inquired about the threat of communism and what living in close proximity to that felt like. In turn, she asked me about gun control in the US (or the lack of) and if I was ever worried about getting shot. This echoed a sentiment I’ve heard from several other international friends in previous months, who have been warned by travel advisories that many US cities are no longer safe.

I happened to depart on this trip to Hong Kong from Mexico, where I have been living for the past nine months. Before moving to Mexico, many people in the US asked, with great concern, “Is it safe?” and “Aren’t you afraid of the cartels?” Many were fearful of the plethora of news reports warning of the drug trade.

Clearly, there is a common thread amongst these three examples, and I use them to illustrate just how frequently we are inundated with a narrative of fear. Traveling helps you see just how widespread and universal this narrative is, and how easily we as humans fall prey to it. After seeing it again and again, you start to realize that it is the same pattern, just being repeated with a variety of different circumstances.

Traveling also gives us a better understanding of what threats or fears propagated by the media are accurate and which are overblown. To be clear, I am not undermining the reality of legitimate threats around the globe. But, I am interested in our perception of them. The problem is that what is familiar to us is always what feels safest, whether this is actually true or not. We’re routinely taught that “the other” (person, race, religion, culture) and their accompanying “threat” is something to mistrust and be afraid of, more so than what lies in our own backyard. And in an odd way, maintaining this sense of separateness feeds our illusion of safety, while ignoring the fact that people are living happily and safely in a multitude of cultures and countries around the globe.

The truth is, a narrative of fear keeps our worlds restricted and keeps us wary of what is not familiar. The energy of fear has a diminishing effect on our souls, our minds, and hearts. And the more we feed it, the stronger it becomes. When it begins to control us, then it has won.

Let's rise above this narrative that has such a strong grip on our current state of affairs. We can choose to not come under its grasp, and instead, broaden our minds, open our hearts, and heal divides through our actions. We can decide to bridge the barriers we erect amongst ourselves (or that governments erect for us). And we can choose to keep moving towards one another, despite fear’s warning to stay away.

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