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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fear

I have been thinking about fear.

My students just read two essays about successful use of nonviolence- in the lives of individuals and in the cases of Denmark and Le Chambon, France against the Nazis during WWII. As we began the discussion today, several students (as expected) said that the use of nonviolence in the personal cases we read were really cases of people who got lucky, because there are a lot more cases of people getting attacked where the attack was not stopped. I acknowledged (as I always do) that we can see many cases of violence in our world...and proposed that the problem is not that people have tried nonviolence and failed, but that they failed to try nonviolence in the first place, so there was no possible chance for it to succeed. (Incidentally, there is an awesome quote by Joan Baez about this. If I had it here, I'd quote it.)

One of the examples in the essay we were discussing (Gerard Vanderhaar's "Nonviolent Response to Assault") is of a woman and her children whose car has broken down by the side of the road. A man with a gun comes up to them and the woman looks him in the eye and tells him to put the gun away and push the car...which he does. One student asked what I would do in the situation and I said I honestly don't know, but that I hoped that, like the woman, I would try to engage the potential attacker as a human being and take control of the situation, rather than allow my fear, and the other person, to be in charge.

Of course, I have no idea if that's what I'd do, but I sincerely hope I would. In another example, as a man is being attacked, he starts yelling out to Jesus and the attackers run away. As I was thinking about this example, I decided that if I am ever in such a situation (or some other volatile situation), I'd love to start singing the song "I Want Jesus to Walk with Me." Who knows what the outcome would be, but at the very least, it would calm me.

I hope I would have the courage to use nonviolence. However, I have been in too many situations (maybe not of potential violence, but certainly risky in other ways) where I have chosen fear. The fear is about speaking up...speaking up when I see something that is clearly wrong. Just the other day I was reading a journal entry of a student who wrote about a presentation by the Invisible Children of Uganda. He said he'd seen the presentation before and yet had not acted on it, even though he was moved by it. He was upset with himself for his inaction. I understood. Along with the comments I wrote back to him, I gave him a short reflection by Mary Lou Kownacki called "Guilty Bystander." It seems there are many of us who do not speak out or act when we know we should (in one class we've recently discussed sins of omission...hmmm). Fear, and sometimes laziness, are powerful. They are also very useful for those who do harm.

Recently I did speak up about something. I am doubtful that my voice will change anything. But I feel good that if nothing else, I have drawn attention to something that needs attention. I was a little nervous to say it, but I am so glad I did. Like the woman in the car, I chose to engage, rather than shy away because of fear.

Sadly, I feel like using my voice then was my exception rather than my rule. I hope and pray that speaking and acting will become my rule and my habit, not my exception.

I pray that God will help me overcome fear.

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