Funny, Wasn't I *Just* Talking About Fear and Anxiety?

Yeah, so my last entry was just about how we've become all anxiety-ridden and fearful of the world we inhabit…then Beirut, Paris, Kenya, Nigeria happened. Christ y'all, I'm trying---as I'm sure we all are---to find some solid emotional ground in the wake of such madness. I read a really good article on Gawker, of all places, about Why Terrorism Works. The author states:

Rage and fear. These are the twin goals of terrorists. And terrorism is wonderfully effective at achieving these goals. All of our rhetoric about bravery and freedom and honor and Settled Determination to Push Forward After This Tragedy rarely adds up to anything more than rage and fear. Our responses to terrorism are based on rage and fear. Because of this, terrorism works.

Rage and fear, two very dangerous emotions. When people are full of rage or fear, they do dumb things. They overreact and lash out, usually at people and things that have nothing to do with the aggressors themselves. For rage and fear are not able to be finely tuned, so it pours out indiscriminately, scorching everything with its lack of precision and finesse. I read a really good article about the social and emotional effects of 9/11 on Americans, which states:

When offenders cannot be punished directly, people lash out against alternative targets that they perceive as similar in some key way to the original offender or offenders (a phenomenon known as displaced aggression).

These misdirected emotions are called moral outrage and not only cause harm to innocent people, but it rots your psyche. A mind consumed with blind rage is no better than what the aggressors believe in and have shown the world. If you stoop down to that level---that level of blind hatred---it can not only cause real danger to others and to yourself, but now you're thinking the same way your enemy is; you are at his level now and, hence, he has won. Not to use a flippant metaphor, but it's the geopolitical equivalent of a boy pinching you on the playground to get you to scream and retaliate. Not only that, getting the western world to turn on ALL Muslims, even the peaceful ones, is part of ISIS's mission, so turning to suspicion and hate and lashing out at Arab Americans who had nothing to do with ISIS's actions is helping ISIS realize one of its goals.

Maybe I could at least see it if this hatred were in any way productive, but it rarely is. So, for example, in your fear and disgust, you find yourself being consumed with hatred and suspicion for all Muslims, people wearing burkas, or hell, just a Sikh person in a turban even though they're not Muslim, but you think, "Who cares? The fuck is the difference anyway?" In your fear and rage, you're grasping at straws.

What is the benefit of carrying around all that hatred? To what end? What are you accomplishing? You're making yourself tense and anxious and you're in no way "combating terrorism." Why would you constantly let that rotten, fetid feeling consume you when---unless you're planning on going over to Syria personally and going Rambo on their asses---you can't really affect any sort of change.

What if you, say, made it a point to strike up a conversation with the hijab-wearing woman whom you see in your coffeeshop five days a week instead? What if you just started with some small nicety "Can you believe this weather?" and it went from there? What if it continued slowly like that, for a few weeks, until you found yourself looking for her, wanting to join her at her table? What if you actually got her story? I'm not saying she's going to have some harrowing tale of washing ashore in a raft, but I bet you hearing her story makes you have empathy for her, and maybe even her family members, who may still be elsewhere, stuck and living in danger. This type of coping mechanism---the counterpoint to the moral outrage discussed above---is called moral cleansing or the act of performing kind acts to reassure ourselves that the world and all people aren't evil. And now there's evidence that empathy can be learned; that is, a person can train themselves to be more empathetic

Look, I'm not saying you need to run out and join a fucking mosque, people. All I'm saying is that, post-9/11, this country became a scary place to be. The amount of anger, xenophobia, and hostility was at its peak throughout the general populace, and it led us to relinquishing a bunch of liberties we might not should have. And it led our government to act rashly to assuage that scared populace; for governments, too, can lash out in fear and anger. And in doing so, we helped contribute to this current mess.

And we've never really returned to "normalcy," have we? Whatever that looks like. No, the timeline for our country can now be divided into "Before" and "After." For the events of that fateful day have left deep emotional scars on our national psyche and on each of us individually. It changed everything, including the biggies---politics and religion---forever. A number of people realized, perhaps for the very first time, that America was not the righteous, impenetrable lady we'd learned about in grade school. No, she was flawed, fallible and, worse yet, vulnerable. A lot of us, whether we like to admit it or not, now waste at least part of our precious subconscious in a fight-or-flight mode. And a subconscious that is living in that constant terror is not a healthy one.

I have no answers, y'all. The best I can do is feel as much empathy as I can for not only ALL of the people who have been the senseless victims of terrorism at the hands of ISIS, but also the victims caught in the crossfire of our response to 9/11---the countless innocent men, women, children who had nothing to do with this mess, yet were killed by our bombs while going about their daily lives in their villages. This is what having empathy is about: being able to imagine what life is like for the refugees fleeing Syria in precarious, un-seaworthy rafts, or being able to understand the terror a woman and her children feel in Afghanistan when Taliban fighters invade and take over her village, killing the men, raping the women, and enslaving the children.

For during these dark and unpredictable times, I find it infuriating that the human race has chosen to divide itself over matters of religion, politics, class, and nationality, when what we need to be doing is uniting as simply Good vs. Evil. Obviously, I get that it's not always so black or white, but look, here we have a clear and present enemy who represents humans at their most vile, and the rest of the world sits here bickering about flags on Facebook, who gets the most media coverage, relaying incidents of Islamophobia against innocent citizens, quibbling over national politics, and blaming everyone except the shitheads who are truly responsible for it. It weakens us, it weakens you, and it empowers them.

So think about your thoughts and actions around these issues in the coming weeks. Resist the urge to turn your mind over to fear and hate. Get away from your computer or TV and all the news and take a nice autumn walk with your dog or your sweetie. Notice the leaves changing, admire the beauty of fucking nature. Squeeze your loved ones and pets more often. Savor a good meal---I mean, really savor it. Rewatch your favorite movie. Have a board game night with your friends and get drunk and silly. And, yes, maybe go out of your way to be kind to a stranger who might be feeling like the world is watching him or her with suspicious eyes these days. Show them that the world can be a compassionate place, even while being simultaneously scary. 

Yeah, the world is on edge right now; I'd be blowing smoke up yall's asses if I told you otherwise. But let's just pretend the world will end next month. You wanna spend that month walking around screaming at people you perceive to be the enemy, getting into unwinnable arguments with people on comment threads on the internet, watching that vein on your forehead get bigger and bigger, and wiping anger-spittle off your lips? Or do you wanna focus on loving the people who love you, enjoying the things that make you happy, and being a kind and compassionate human being? 

I'm choosing peace.