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What happens when you feel ground down, stuffed beyond full of worry? Your hope deflates. Your joy dims. Of course, that’s what Putin is hoping will finally defeat the Ukrainians. Terror is supposed to beat people and minds into submission. Hitler tried it with Britain. It works on the weak-willed. It strengthens those who generate powerful resolve, who know what they’re defending.
In this country, too, fear is a popular tool used not only to transform the government, but also to raise funds, change votes, and alter values. “Donate now or else…” The problem is fear produces diminishing returns. People get sick of rising to the bait—as in the tale of the boy who cried wolf. The cries start to sound like “blah, blah, blah.” If they haven’t actually experienced near-death or autocracy, people begin to assume the threats are empty or at least not all that bad. They say, “Nothing really changes,” a belief that gave us Trump for a president. For another example, they cite people they’ve heard of who survived the first throes of the pandemic—not that bad. The ones who didn’t must have done something to make themselves vulnerable. Death is normal… if it isn’t yours or a prospect for someone you love. As Emily Dickinson wrote, “Because I could not stop for Death/ He kindly stopped for me…”
Around the world, people are tired of being afraid. We can stay frightened only so long and then we choose another response. A popular adaptation after the past few wearying years is tuning out. Turn off the news or watch only reports that make you feel good. Protect your peace of mind at all costs. Of course, those who would use fear to manipulate are glad for that reaction. Ignorance makes people malleable. In order to tune out, some convince themselves the threat isn’t so terrible. According to the NYT, the people of Russia are discovering that they were lulled into believing their country wasn’t that restrictive or oppressive, when suddenly… it is.
Since the old adage (credited to Erma Bombeck) about worry being like a rocking chair (“it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere”) can mean that fear without action grinds on people. Many get sick. Some slip over the brink of mental illness. Some react with violence, shooting in a subway or running down people who disagree. Others join the fray or campaign or volunteer or donate or take in refugees to give themselves the balm of positive action. One simple action: Be careful who you vote into office and be certain you have someone working for you and your neighbors and not merely themselves.
This Good Friday might remind Christians among others that they can’t simply turn away and avoid responsibility. Sometimes threats are real and will produce unwanted results if left to metastasize. We must vaccinate our fear with practical action, always remembering to look for what we can do that will make a positive difference. Do what you can and let go. It’s okay to remember the fate of the world isn’t only yours. Keep yourself in balance. Love is your responsibility. It’s up to you to figure out how to make it work.