It is both our greatest enemy and our greatest weapon. Fear is all around us. We are conditioned to live fearfully and so we are desensitized to fear in our daily lives, letting it dictate many of our decisions without even consciously realizing it. Fear is exercised on us by media, authority figures, celebrities, our jobs, our parents, our peers, politicians, and organized religions, plus many other sources I’m sure I’m failing to mention.
American Horror Story: Cult recently covered the topic of fear and how cult leaders cultivated it into their followers to exercise their agendas. The show also touched on how politicians use fear in a similar manner to cult leaders to garner votes to get elected to power. The fear mongering continues during their terms and in their speeches and in their media interviews/appearances to get people to support their policies and to get fellow politicians to vote for their proposed changes. A politician has to be careful not to propose too much radical change, however, because people also happen to fear change.
On a different scale – one that doesn’t necessarily involve mass murders and suicides – corporations use fear to sell you their products, and no greater example is seen than on Black Friday (a “holiday” specifically named this so that stores can make their sales year and get themselves out of the red and into the black). Ads have recently adopted a new bold catchphrase in their ads: FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Businesses are so confident that we will abandon our families at Thanksgiving now and go buy their shit that they actually use the word Fear in their commercials. And what exactly are we missing out on?
These companies want us to believe that we are missing out on love because advertising has groomed us from an early age to associate love with possessions, money, and commodities. If I don’t bust down the door of the store and beat down some stranger for the hottest new toy to give to my daughter, it means I don’t love her enough. It means I ruin a 4-year-old’s belief in Santa Claus because he didn’t bring her this item, and instead I have to come up with an excuse like the elves couldn’t make enough. “But wasn’t I a good girl, daddy?” I can picture saying, looking up at me with teary eyes.
The fear of that heartbreaking disappointment is enough to have many of us standing outside in the cold at 3AM, readying ourselves like a soldier going to war (and people have died on black Friday), all in the name of spoiling our children and teaching them to do the same when they become parents someday. Through fear and commodity of love, we have lost the true meaning of the holidays. Would your relationship with your child or loved one be ruined if they didn’t get the hottest toy or accessory for Christmas, or might they learn that it’s okay to not always get what you want? After all, the hottest new item is available for far less money after the new year. The deal is supposed to be that Santa brings gift(s) to good girls and boys, but why are we giving gifts if they are behaving terribly anyway? Doesn’t that only reinforce their bad behavior? It’s because we’ve come to associate that shower of gifts with love, and so if we don’t give our kids gifts, we must not love them. We know of course that is not the definition of love, yet we let ourselves be indoctrinated into that belief via advertising and misguided peer pressure.
We are also guilty of taking advantage of these fears on the secondary market. People who land the hottest toy sell them on eBay, for example, after these products are no longer available in stores and at a huge markup for their own individual profits. This was even seen recently with the solar eclipse, when people bought the special sunglasses for viewing it in the stores for like a dollar a pair and sold them on the secondary markets for like $15/pair!
Right along the lines of Thanksgiving, what would happen if our families didn’t feast on thousands of calories on this day? Would that mean that we don’t love each other somehow? Lilith just said, “Today is the day we eat turkey, right?” The original Thanksgiving, of course, did not consist of all of these foods. The concept of the modern day feast was popularized in Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” and it was during a time when people did not feast like this every other day of the year. Given the overwhelming rise of obesity on a global scale, my guess is many people, as I have done, eat this way every other day too. Are we too afraid now to go against the tide of feasting on Thanksgiving? It’s supposed to be a day of giving thanks, not taking thanklessly. I’m sorry if I’m sounding preachy, but I also believe thanksgiving is not supposed to be a day where you eat early so you can leave your family and go fight for early “doorbuster” sales.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” A popular quote still used to this day, originating with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s inaugural address. FDR served as US president for a record four terms, all the way up to his death in 1945. He was the US leader during events that still strike fear into people today: The Great Depression and World War II. He was reelected so many times because of how he handled these crises, but even he admitted that his initial solutions to the Great Depression were trial and error ideas. But since his ideas worked and eased people’s fears, he continued to be reelected.
When the US and global economies hit the recession recently, the media salivated at the chance to make you fear another stock market crash and the loss of all your financial assets. People lost jobs, and cost of living went up. Propaganda convinced people with jobs that they should take on more hours for less pay and lick their bosses’ feet, all while benefits got worse, such as health insurance premiums going up while covering less health services. But we were always taught that hard work always pays off, so that must just mean we need to work harder and longer for the corporation. Then and today, they don’t want us to know about addition by subtraction; subtracting our unnecessary expenses so that we can gain back more of our lives and freedom from working insane hours (or perhaps even at all). The media has also thrown around the term World War III in hopes of getting you to tune in with fear over the conflict between Donald Trump and North Korea.
Even with the anti-bullying movements prevailing in today’s media, celebrities, politicians, people in power, and our “average Joes” still use fear to bully people into following their agenda. Lace recently told you some of her story about being a victim of bullying, and she mentioned how one bully was able to use fear tactics to influence an entire class to pick on Lace. They did it so as not to go against the grain and risk being bullied themselves, and because siding with the bully put them in a position of power as well.
I’m ashamed to admit that I was one of those who sided with the bullies so as not get picked on. I, like Lace, was fat and shy as a child, and I was bullied early on as well. In preschool, my mother taught me to make a fist and hit the bully so as to get him to stop. I was nervous to strike somebody like that. It didn’t feel right. It wasn’t the right thing to do, and it wasn’t the right thing to teach a kid to do. But I wanted the bullying to stop and “mama said knock you out,” so I ended up hitting the bully with an open handed slap that left him with a welt on his face in the shape of my hand. He never picked on me again, and that felt good. Too good.
I enjoyed my new power position, and as I got older I learned a mob-like mentality that if I befriend the right bully with the right influence and fit into that crowd, I would be protected. I remember one time we were outside in a field for school recess in second grade, and this one kid was bullying me (on my own, I was still a shy and gentle kid at the time). He called me fatso and punched me in the stomach, knocking the wind out of me and sending me down crying. Unfortunately for that kid, I had a group of friends at that point who were popular, and it was one of the school bullies and his “associates,” and they proceeded to beat that kid down gang style in front of me, with the teachers well out of view of what was going on. That was the last time I ever got hit through all of school. I recall one other instance where some kid tried to bully me, but he immediately got beat down, this time with me partaking in it as well. From that point on, even when I could tell a kid wanted to try and bully me he thought better of it and found a different target.
I still grew up fat and shy, and I was also spoiled and a coward. I became firmly implanted with the group, and I was kind of the silent enforcer type, often displaying the most violence out of all of them, perhaps to prove my worth in their social circle. I was brutal and merciless. I’m lucky I didn’t break anyone’s bones, but I came close more than once. My attitude and my mouth were just as bad, and I had a number of screaming matches with my parents (especially my mother) as well, some that turned physical. My little brother grew up with an anger problem as well, and I know I was a major contributor from my bullying of him.
As I got older in high school, I started to retreat away from these social circles. It never felt right to be involved with them, and I think it was only a matter of time before I would’ve started getting bullied by these people. I would make up excuses to stop going to house parties. I became mostly a recluse, and by senior year I was far more tolerant, becoming close friends with the type of kids I would’ve bullied earlier in school.
Much of my bullying ways stuck with me though. It was conditioned in me over many years, and so it was hard to break. Passive aggression, sarcasm, insults, narcissism, fear (there’s that word again) of feeling inferior to others all shaped my behaviors, and going into college I had a hard time making new friends. I met people who were nice, tolerant, and didn’t feel like they hated the world. These people knew themselves, and I didn’t know my true self (and I resented people for that). I decided in response to this new-found lack of acceptance that I was too cool for anyone and that I was a lone wolf. I shut myself away and locked up from the world, as I was too proud to admit I was wrong, and I was also too immature/afraid to try and change my ways.
Until very recently, a lot of my passive aggressive and rebellious ways stuck with me in adulthood. I made bullying remarks to Lace even early on in our relationship, trying to be funny and without realizing the hurt I was causing. It isn’t funny to use biting wit to break down the self-esteem of people you love. For some of you, that may seem like an easy, dingus conclusion to reach in life, but it took a lot of soul searching on my part to realize what I was doing and how I was betraying my true self for so long.
I apologize if this post comes off a little too preachy or a little disjointed. I thought it was important today and in light of Lace’s post to talk a bit about fear and bullying and how it relates to control and shapes society around us, right down to our daily actions. It shapes how we celebrate the holidays. It makes us strive to conform instead of going against the grain so that we can live our lives unnoticed. Fear discourages victims from finding their voices and keeps others from speaking up on the victim’s behalf and doing what’s right. Fear makes savages out of us, sending us to war during the holidays in the name of consumerism. Fear props you at a holiday dinner table with “family” you see twice a year who criticize your life and make you feel bad about yourself, as I did for many years around my relatives. Fear makes you clock in at work and beg for more hours away from your loved ones so you can live comfortably and complacently. Fear prevents us from taking a big risk and making radical change in our lives (in our case, moving away from everyone and everything we know to live on, build, and operate a homestead), even when we know doing so would make us exponentially happier with ourselves and our situation.
If you can relate to any of this, try to start today, right now, shedding your fears. What are you afraid of? We all have fears. Are you afraid of being vulnerable? Say something with true loving feeling to someone you really care about and put yourself out there. Are you afraid of missing out on the stores’ black Friday deals? Remember you save more money by not spending it, and stay home. Afraid of disappointing your children? Teach them what love truly is and the true meaning of the holidays so that they learn to appreciate what they get and to not associate love with gifts and possessions. It takes great action to dissolve your fears, but it is possible. It’s highly possible if you break yourself open and truly reexamine everything that is inside you.
Finally, I want to say that today I am thankful for the quality over quantity of people I have in my life. I am specifically thankful for Lace and Lilith. I am thankful for a warm home with four walls and a ceiling and a quiet, private place to sleep. I am thankful for my health and mental faculties, and I am thankful for the air I breathe and the homemade unprocessed food in my stomach. I am thankful to be on the path to living a purposeful life where we strive to let go of fear and convention in favor of finding true happiness and spiritual wellness. I’m thankful that I’ve gained this much insight at this point in my life to appreciate these things every day and that I have the opportunity to possibly help someone else gain the same kind of introspection in their own life as I have.