Fear and I are old friends.
As someone who lives with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I spend a significant portion of my time being afraid. Figuring out how to manage my fear instead of being managed by it is a constant and exhausting struggle.
What I've found to be true of both myself and others is that fear is most often translated into judgmental attitudes and hateful actions. This isn't anything new, but it's surprisingly insidious.
For example, it's easy to call out the byproducts of fear when we hear presidential candidates attempting to prevent Muslims from traveling to the United States, but it's much harder when people we actually know suddenly start spouting the exact same rhetoric.
It's harder still when the person we know expounding hateful views--of any variety--is ourselves.
Fear and hatred are both contagious, but they need not be synonymous. The most effective way to prevent this from happening is by first changing our own thought patterns, and then striving to recognize when we start to fall into the same fearful, hateful habits.
The following are tips gleaned from many a therapist and lived experience. Feel free to use them the next time you start to feel that the emotional managerial position is being reversed:
Acknowledge that you're afraid. What does the sensation of fear feel like physically, emotionally, and mentally? Once you can recognize the onset of fear, start acknowledging to yourself that that's what is is. Remind yourself that it's okay to be afraid.
Question your fear. Dig into those feelings of fright. Ask yourself why you're afraid. Is there an object of this particular fear? Why is it that you find it particularly threatening? Are you inherently fearful of it, OR is someone telling you that you should be? Who or what is telling you to be afraid? Are they benefitting from your fear? How so?
Examine how your fear causes you to act.
- Do you treat people poorly or as lesser because you feel that they threaten your privilege in some way? Do you refuse to grant them the same rights and privileges that you have because of this? That's called discrimination. Discrimination is hateful.
- Do you label another group of people as "other", and assign a variety of negative characteristics to the entire group? Do you use these labels to justify treating them poorly? That's called prejudice. Prejudice is hateful.
- Do you judge an entire group of people based on the actions of a few? Do you insulate yourself in a community of like-minded thinkers or sycophants, and refuse to hear any evidence to the contrary? That's called bigotry. Bigotry is hateful.
- Do you do nothing, even when you know what's going on is wrong? That's called cowardice. It's neither hateful nor commendable, but it has the same effect as molasses in machinery: slowing down progress and making it more difficult.
- Do you say nothing for the moment, but commit to educating yourself to speak out in the future? Do you talk to people, read articles from a variety of sources, and give yourself time to consider multiple perspectives? Do you make an effort to understand, and perhaps reevaluate your fear? That's called being proactive. Being proactive is helpful.
- Do you confront injustice and fear when you see, hear, or experience it, regardless of your own fears? Do you make an effort to do so respectfully and civilly, without compromising your values? Do you acknowledge that fear is dehumanizing, and vow to act first and foremost out of love? That helps break the chain of fear. That's called courage, and like fear and hatred, it's very contagious.
Acknowledge your fear to others. Find a community that holds you accountable to being fearful without being hateful. Find a community that will be willing to call you out if you start to cross that line.
Hold yourself accountable by remembering to treat other people the way you want to be treated. Take a moment to truly imagine, to the best of your ability, what life is like for them. Empathy is a life skill that always has a use.
Remember. It is okay to be afraid. It is okay to be proactive and courageous. It is not okay to be bigoted, prejudiced, silent, or discriminatory.
Go in peace.