When we’re blinded by fear, it’s difficult to recognize truth. When fear takes over our hearts, trust disappears and along with it the ability to experience happiness, peace and joy.
I was prompted to write this post by the convergence of a couple stories in the national media and a spate of burglaries that happened in my normally crime free town of Sedona, AZ. First there’s the story of Trayvon Martin, the young black man shot to death by a neighborhood watch volunteer in a gated community for the great crime of walking down the street with a bag of skittles and and an iced tea. Then NPR ran a story about a study indicating that voters tend to support or reject the president’s health care reform package based on racial attitudes. Next I was chatting with a neighbor and he told me how he was keeping an eye on any workers coming in and out of our neighborhood to make sure none of them appeared to be casing houses with the intent of coming back to rob them later. For me, each story brought to mind a common theme. We become suspicious and fearful of others when we pre-judge them, when we have prejudice about who and what they are based on our unconscious attitudes and inbred fear.
In the instance of Trayvon Martin, the shooter (George Zimmerman) describes Trayvon as “suspicious” in a 911 call, simply because he was a young black male walking down the street wearing a hoodie. There had been a series of burglaries in his Sanford, Florida neighborhood and as a neighborhood watch volunteer, Zimmerman was on guard. But Trayvon, it turns out, was visiting his Dad’s fiance in this multi-racial neighborhood and had just walked down to the convenience store to get a snack. There was nothing dangerous about him; he was not armed, had no criminal record and no previous trouble with the law. Because he was unfamiliar to Mr. Zimmerman and appeared “suspicious,” he is now dead. This is a complicated story that brings up many issues for many people, but I would just like to pose this question: What if Zimmerman had not been, suspicious and afraid? What if he had left his gun at home, taken the time to approach the young man in a friendly fashion, and simply said, “I’m a neighborhood watch volunteer and I’m just wondering what brings you to the neighborhood?” The outcome would likely have been very different.
I found the NPR story to be both eye-opening and disheartening. (You can listen here.) It was based on a study by social scientist Michael Tesler. The results of his study show that people tend to favor or oppose health care policy based on racial attitudes. The premise seems pretty simple. Tesler took a single piece of health care legislation and presented it in two different ways. Some respondents were told that the legislation was proposed by President Bill Clinton. Others were told that it was proposed by President Obama. The results were pretty astounding. It seems that responders who admitted to being racially conservative tended to oppose the legislation when they were told it was proposed by Obama, but they supported it when told it was proposed by Clinton. Remember, it’s the exact same piece of legislation, and both Presidents are democrats. The only variable is their difference in race. When we look at life through the filter of our prejudices, we just don’t see things clearly.
I’m as guilty as anyone of falling into unconscious prejudgment. I live in the lovely town of Sedona, Arizona near the trail head for a popular Sedona hiking trail. Tourists are always driving up and down our street either headed for the trail, or just checking out the beautiful red rock views. Even so, the day after I learned of the burglaries (one of which happened on my street) I was driving up the road when I passed a man sitting in a car parked in front of a neighbor’s house. I noticed in my rear view mirror, that he pulled out and turned onto a side street just as I passed him. To my chagrin, I found myself doing a U-turn and attempting to follow him. A moment later he reappeared on the main drag having driven a circular side street. Just another tourist enjoying the views in the hood. Like I said, when we’re blinded by fear, it’s difficult to recognize truth.
Thank you Shaeri for a wonderful post. I would add that after Awareness comes Action. I will use myself as example. After 911 I was afraid of our Middle Eastern Community in Florida. Before they were just a group of people that “kept to themselves”. Or maybe I would say “I kept to myself”
But after 911 I had suspicion and pre judged every one of them. They were all potential terrorists. The absurdity of my fears were reflected back to me when my own Korean daughter was the target of hate emails and remarks because high school students(after 911) mistook her as Middle Eastern. In their ignorance of her as Asian they lumped her into a group along with her girlfriend who was from India who also was a target. Anyone not like white was subject to be pre judged.
My daughter and I attended Ramadan and invited Muslim friens to dinner.
Friendships grew and fears dispersed. I too had believed that a few bad men represented all Muslims. (not for long but long enough to not like what was happening to me) These were not fears of my parents. These were my created beliefs.
As we identify with Awareness our prejudices we can ask ourselves, is this mine or did I learn it from a real experience or my parents messages. Then after awareness we can make an action plan to build a bridge. After the bridge is built the false ideas that we can’t see at first become the water below our bridge flowing away. Then love can travel with ease from one person to another and we can see that we are all connected. We are all really one.
That’s beautiful Linda and such an important journey to take inside of our own consciousness. Thanks so much for taking the time to share!
Thanks for bringing your wisdom into the marketplace. So many dragons, requiring so much love and attention and alertness. And – as we learn to dance with our dragons, no need to let them step on our toes! 😉 Take care.
Thanks Prahas. Yes…as we invite our dragons dance in the light of day…it’s important that they learn to step lightly. 🙂
Thanks for sharing this, Shaeri. You are so right. Fear takes so much away from us. It’s our own self imposed prison. When we trust ourselves more, we will trust others. As we all know, it comes from the inside out.
So true Kenna. Trust truly opens the prison door and sets our hearts free.
Well written and completely true. All we can do is our best to stay aware and keep our own prejudice in check
Awareness is definitely the key! Thanks Heidi.