Breath Deeply & Count to Three: Acting Like You’ve Got Some Sense While Living in a Culture of Fear

The readiest weapon we all wield is our opinion. For most, those who disagree with our view are the enemy. And the war is raging on. Over-action, escalation, mutual frustration–both sides take a beating. These days, everyone is taking a beating.

In a world where panic follows even the most minor problem, it’s easier to let each day slip into a mass hysteria than it is to step back and consider probable outcomes. To us, the sky is falling. Every day. For numerous reasons.

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The economy is in the tank, therefore America is likely not to exist in three years. We’ll all be speaking Chinese before you know it. North Korea has a wack-job young president trying to flex his muscles, so we scramble our defense systems to get ready. Some legislation about this or that is introduced, and all of the sudden the government wants to take all our liberties and put a microchip in our arms so they can control us like robots. These are serious issues, and I don’t mean to make fun. And there is surely some truth to some worst-case scenarios. But our breathless doomsday scenarios assume that we’ve not faced these kinds of scenarios before (see The Great Depression, Adolf Hitler, etc.).

Curiously, our panic button is pressed not just in light of huge, global concerns. We react in the same nervous manner when our schools eliminate bus routes, our favorite sports team trades a fan favorite, or our boss takes the free coffee out of the break room and puts in a vending machine instead.

How could they! Don’t they know! Who do they think they are!?!

In our world where a knee jerk reaction seems to be the knee jerk reaction to almost any situation, I sat back and tried to think about why. I think I’m correct about these three things, and I hope by realizing it we can all take a step back and realize that taking a chill pill might be a smart move.

So before we unload on our Facebook page about the similarities between your local mayor and Joseph Stalin (complete with a handy meme), read this, take a deep breath, and keep counting until you’ve calmed down:

Everyone is an Expert

One of the reasons we flip out over everything is we all fancy ourselves an expert on, well, everything. We have access to so much information it is unbelievable. You can go from knowing nothing about a topic to feeling like you’ve got a masters degree on the subject in about an hour. I can google a name (let’s say, Brad Griffith, off the top of my head), find a website, read Wikipedia, connect via LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, all in about five minutes. (<a>www.wikipedia.com</a>, <a>www.linkedin.com</a>, <a>www.bradgriffith.com</a>, <a>www.facebook.com</a>, <a>www.twitter.com</a>)

I feel smarter for having done so. I figure no one else has. I can drop little lines into conversation.

(For instance, did you know Brad Griffith is an entrepreneur who started <a>www.clearwish.com</a>, an online wish list where you can post your wish and have it granted by a complete stranger? Probably not. You’re not an expert like me.)

This all seems pretty harmless when we’re researching fine folks like Brad Griffith.

But what happens when everyone has a blog and can wax eloquently about all the problems in the world? Or if we start googling a school shooting only to discover that the government wants to take ALL OUR GUNS! We have so much information at our disposal, it doesn’t matter if we fact check. (I ran across one website, for instance, which listed a bunch of executive orders our current president had issued to take away our weapons and our 2nd Amendment Rights. I looked up the Executive Orders issued. They were actually issued by Teddy Roosevelt and had nothing to do with guns). So the key is not correct information. The key is having lots of information and seeming important. We can buy a degree online and fake it.

You can buy one here, for example: <a>www.buyrealdegree.com</a>

What used to be call hobbies we now considered areas of expertise. I don’t just like movies; I am a better judge of them than The Academy. I’m not just a mom, I’m a member at <a>www.thebestmoms.com</a>, which kind of speaks for itself. I follow So-And-So on Twitter, so I probably know more about him than you do. We’re practically best friends. He replied to a tweet I sent him…once.

By the way, if your curiosity was piqued enough to click on one of those links, you’ve affirmed the point. With a tap of our thumb or mousepad, you started down the path to expertise. This will help you overreact and critique better than ever!

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Everyone has a Megaphone

Another reason we’re all freaking out is because we can broadcast our concerns a lot easier than we used to. We used to have to wait until a round of golf with the boys, bingo night at the Old Folks home, or the church potluck to put our opinions out there. Through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., we all have a platform on which to advance our doctrine. For instance, I’m sharing my concerns about everyone freaking out all the time using a Facebook Note. I’ll probably tweet out a link to point people toward it. That’s my megaphone.

This past election cycle, it got so rough on Facebook that I had to install an app that would block certain status updates that bothered me. I’m all for hearty debate, but I don’t like it when we use our cyber-mic to say stuff we’d never say to another human being in person. Understand me, I didn’t block out stuff because I disagreed with it, necessarily. I did it because I didn’t like the tone of voice. It was as if someone was standing on a street corner, indicating who they disagreed with, and yelling in their face. We don’t do that in real life. Why do we do it via our online broadcast systems?

This equal-sign, gender-equality stuff hit Facebook and I thought that America might undergo it’s second Civil War. Mass hysteria followed. Not because difference opinion on the issue were new. Just because they were easier to broadcast.

Everyone has an Agenda

Our look-at-me culture started with the Post World War II American dream. It was advanced in a self-esteem bubble promoted when I was growing up. And our own individual ideas have been solidified by our ability to filter out anything we disagree with a single flick of our thumb.

We are right, they are wrong, and there’s very little room for civil dialogue concerning the gap in between. This is true on any number of issues–from bus routes getting cut in our local school district to terrorist attacks half a world away to political opinions on any range of subjects. What’s worse, we actually filter out the voices that we disagree with. We block them. We label them as spam. We un-friend them on Facebook. We keep our distance in real life. We can’t allow ourselves to be contaminated!

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All this is probably not new. But the immediacy with which we can do it is. And the public way in which we can stake our claim for truth is much more noticeable. And the harshness with which we disagree seems to be ticking up.

We are, by in large, a culture that takes every disagreement as an offense. We are, on the whole, a community that believes the worst in people, not the best. We are, for the most part, unable to step back and take an objective look at the world’s problems because we are force-fed news updates with such fervor, on our terms, and in our preferred opinion on a consistent basis. The smallest of events becomes a big time problem. So we take a stand. Then others take a stand against us. Before you know it, we have a paralyzed government, a divided church, and a nation full of enemies holding their ground, wondering who will blink first.

Will we get our way, or will the world come crumbling down around us?

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But Why?

Do you find yourself freaking out a lot? Do news headlines effect your mood? Do people who disagree with you become enemies? Do you ever wonder why you feel that way. It can’t be because you simply disagree. You disagree with a lot of stuff. You don’t panic, post, or protest about it. Maybe it’s because you REALLY care about something…you’re so passionate, you can’t help but stay quiet. But I don’t buy that reason either. I think we’re all passionate about a lot of things. That doesn’t mean we take to the streets when things don’t go our way in that area. I am a die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan. I may take a little harmless jab at fans of other teams, but I don’t get all nasty on Facebook about it.

I am convinced my daughter is the prettiest little girl in the world. I don’t send out tweets talking about how ugly everyone else’s kids are. Why not? I’m passionate about it, aren’t I? Maybe passion isn’t the reason we speak up after all.

I think the bottom line for most of the megaphone crowd, whichever side of whatever issue they reside on, is this: they are afraid. They are afraid they are going to lose. They are afraid they are going to be wrong. They are afraid the way things used to be aren’t going to stay the way they are. They are afraid life will get harder, problems will get more complicated, and they might not get as much of a say. I think, fundamentally, most of us are just afraid things are going to get increasingly uncomfortable.

The sky is not falling. To think things are worse now than ever before is naive. People though the Apocolypse was happening no less than 20 times already (no…really: see the fall of Rome, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, WWI, WWII, Persian Gulf, and many others). We aren’t the first group of humans to live in a culture of fear, where everyone’s weapon was their opinion and everyone with a dissenting view was the enemy.

Would you believe me if I told you the Bible had some good advice, perfect for times like our current times?

Matthew 6:25-27 says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And lest you become convinced that those were different times, that the world was simpler then, that there weren’t as many problems, consider this passage of Scripture from about 1,000 years before Jesus told us not to worry:

“Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)

Are our days troubled? Certainly. Does our nation face real problems? Absolutely. But the answer is not to worry and fret and lose sleep and stress about it. The answer is not to fear man–neither our government or other nations. In fact, if you find fear is what causes you to press the panic button (and I believe for most of us it is), consider these words.

“This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:17-19)

If you are a Christian, here’s my challenge to you–stop living in the culture of fear. Step out of it and realize that since this isn’t our home, there’s nothing this world can do to us that is truly harmful. We need not worry.

If you are not a Christian, and you find yourself enraged by the conflict that surrounds you, I invite you to join the side of Jesus. Unlike those who are lugging along in this culture of fear, tormented each day with the possibility of losing, His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

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