5 Things We Don't Need To Fear

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No Fear

Not everything in this world should scare us. There are at least five things we know to be safe.

The whole month of October was one long Halloween celebration and there were plenty of things happening, both in and external to that celebration, that was frightening. Some things, such as investigations involving members of the federal government, or the climate crisis should be frightening. Many times, though, we are provoked into being afraid of things that present no harm at all. 

Okay, I typed that line and am thinking I may need to clarify a bit. They present no harm outside the fact some of them represent a change to a stodgy, narrow-minded, misogynistic status quo that has outstayed its welcome. As a society, we are often hard-pressed to change opinions that fall under the category of “that’s the way it’s always been” or “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” falls into that hard-headed category as well. 

My late father used to tell a well-worn story of a young bride who was cooking her first holiday ham. She bought the ham, set it in a roasting pan, and then pulled out her mother’s instructions for cooking the ham. The first thing on the list was “cut two inches off the butt portion of the ham.” That requirement struck the young woman as odd so she called her mother. 

“Why am I supposed to cut off the butt portion of the ham?” she asked. 

“I don’t know,” replied her mother. “That’s the way my mom taught me to cook them. You’d have to ask Grandma.”

The young woman hadn’t talked with her grandmother in a few days so she thought it was a good excuse to call her and see how she was doing. In the course of the conversation, she asked, “Grandma, why do you cut the butt portion off the ham before you cook it?”

Her grandmother thought for a moment and then answered, “I’m not really sure, dear. That’s just the way my mom taught me to cook and I never thought to question it. You’d have to ask her.”

Now, great-grandmother was well-past 90 years old and her memory wasn’t always on point, especially when talking over the phone. So, the young woman decided she had time to pay her great-grandmother a quick visit. She drove over to the assisted living facility and in the course of conversation asked, “Great-grandma, why did you always cut the butt portion off a ham before you cooked it.”

The older woman took her great-granddaughter’s hand and said, “When I was your age, I only had one roasting pan and it was too small for the ham your great-grandfather would bring home. So, I had to cut two inches off the butt portion for the rest of the ham to fit. That’s all.”

As a society, we get stuck in those same habits and when that well-worn status quo begins to change we get unreasonably frightened not because the change is threatening but simply because it’s different than we’ve experienced before. We aren’t sure what to expect or what the outcome might be. If someone else is afraid of something, maybe we should be afraid also.

Making matters worse, the Internet is a wonderful place for spreading stories and there’s little to fact-check whether those stories are true, especially when they’re told as personal experiences. Who can challenge the authenticity of a personal experience? “You weren’t there, you don’t know!” 

We know that change is going to happen but we fear change that may not work out in our favor. We want change to be good for us, bring us more money, flying cars, self-tying shoes, and instant commutes. What we don’t want are changes that cause us to question ourselves and our motives, we don’t want change that upsets the way we’ve always done things. As a result, we’ve harbored a lot of fear. Why? It’s easier to keep cutting off the butt end of the ham rather than buying a new pan. 

What we’ve done this week is found five things that seem to invoke a lot of fear for reasons I personally find unreasonable. Those things are 1. Autistic children, 2. Women in power, 3. Using gender-neutral language, 4. Democratic socialism, and 5. Poor people. I’ve observed absolute hysteria around all five and find the fear completely irrational yet, for some reason, self-perpetuating. They are all things that, collectively, we need to move past and embrace. If you’re already cool with all five, good for you! Chances are, though, you know someone who isn’t, so perhaps you’ll share this article with them. Let’s get started.

Fear of Autistic Children

Autistic Children

I am increasingly angered by all the ignorant and uninformed vitriol aimed at autistic children, as though autism is a life-threatening and disabling disease that threatens to kill all our offspring and bring about an end to the human race. It isn’t. Neither is autism contagious. One doesn’t become autistic after being inoculated against another disease nor hanging around autistic children on the playground. None of those things are true and people who continue to spread those lies need to be corrected and their ignorance publicly addressed.

First, let’s define what Autism actually is. Autism Spectrum Disorder is “a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. (autismspeaks.org)” By being a spectrum disorder, children can exhibit challenges in different areas while not having a problem in others. We often refer to children as “high functioning” or “low functioning” but those are really misnomers related to how well a child adapts to social situations. Some autistic children are non-verbal but there are others who can’t stop talking, often repeating words or phrases several times. The experience and challenges are different for everyone.

The Center for Disease Control estimated in 2018 that 1 in 59 children are autistic but then came back in April of this year and stated that new study factors show autism is “more prevalent than indicated by the latest 1 in 59 CDC estimate.” Part of the reason for that change is that children are often not being diagnosed with ASD until they are 8 years old or older. Remember, autism isn’t something you “catch.” One of the challenges is that the more obvious challenges aren’t noticed until a child is older and more frequently in socially-challenging environments. 

What causes autism? A number of things can contribute to a child having autism, and often the condition is genetic, especially related to gene changes. Having older parents (either or both) increases the risk of autism. Pregnancies spaced less than one year apart also increases the risk. The risks are mitigated to some extent by taking prenatal vitamins with folic acid before and all the way through pregnancy, but that is not always enough to counter genetic predisposition.

What doesn’t cause autism? Anything that happens after a child is born. While autistic symptoms can often be slow in presenting themselves, it is something with which one is born. One cannot get it through vaccinations nor any other external or environmental situation that may occur after a child is born. Because autism isn’t something that presents itself immediately, it may appear anecdotally to be “caused” by an external event. This is why one sees so many stories claiming that their child was “just fine” until they were vaccinated or were in a daycare with autistic children. There’s no specific set of triggers for autistic behavior because the experience is largely individual. So, to the unsuspecting parent, it can appear that a certain event might have caused the disease, but the fact is that the disease is always present from birth.

So why do we fear autism so much? Why is it that some people would rather place their children in real danger of contracting a disease such as measles and chickenpox, which can kill their child, than have a child with autism? Why do some parents think that having an autistic child is a horrible thing?

I’ve checked all the literature I can find and there is no justifiable reason other than ignorance of the disease and perhaps, for some, a bit of laziness. As the parent of three children with ASD, I understand that they can at times be exhausting and sometimes requires us to be on our toes in social situations. But then, the children who are not ASD are just as exhausting and just as worrisome. If anything, knowing the social triggers of a child with ASD helps us be better parents. We know what to expect, what to avoid, and how to respond when things happen. 

The reality? Autistic kids are awesome! They tend to be extremely intelligent and often highly focused. They think differently which leads them to solutions no one else would have found. Many are determined when they start a task and are detailed-oriented enough to do something well once they get started. Many grow to be successful adults who are fully aware of their challenges and how to address them. They are wonderful people who can do amazing things.

Applied Behavior Analysis has an appropriately helpful article, “5 Things We Could All Stand to Learn from People With ASD.” I encourage reading the entire article, but in summary, those five things are:

  1. Honesty
  2. Fearlessness
  3. Quietude
  4. Solitude
  5. Routine

We’re slowly figuring out that what at first appeared to be the idiosyncrasies of autism are characteristics that may improve the quality of life for some people, especially when it comes to noise.

I find it interesting that just last week Oxford University’s student council voted to ban clapping at on-campus events. While the move has received considerable backlash from ignorant people who mistakenly assume that the student council is appeasing “snowflakes,” it is a fantastic gesture toward a number of both autistic and hearing-impaired students, neither of which are “snowflakes” by any stretch of the imagination. Oxford’s student council recognizes what many others don’t: people with autism are wonderful. There’s no reason to fear being around them, and there’s no reason to fear being the lucky parent of one.

Fearing Women In Power

Women In Power

Let’s be honest upfront: I don’t have nearly enough space here to fully discuss the why, how, or when related to fearing women in power. This is a huge topic whose history, arguably, goes all the way back to the mythical garden of Eden when Eve is unjustly blamed for the fall of humanity. We’ve been embedded with patriarchy through over 6,000 years of social development and the fear of overturning that system of power runs incredibly deep.

Our fear of women in power is strong; it is a large part of the reason the United States has yet to have a female president, why so few Fortune 500 companies have women as CEOs, and a significant part of the reason for the gender pay gap. And while it’s tempting to say that only men have this problem, we see plenty of women who harbor the fears as well. “Feminism” is such a negative word in many portions of society that many prominent women refuse to identify themselves as such for fear of the backlash.

When singer Katy Perry accepted the Billboard Woman of the Year award in 2012, she said, “I am not a feminist, but I do believe in the strength of women.” 

The former first lady of France Carla Bruni-Sarkozy famously said, “I’m not at all an active feminist. On the contrary, I’m a bourgeois. I love family life, I love doing the same thing every day … We don’t need to be feminist in my generation.”

As a male person who was 1) raised by a strong mother, and 2) works 90 percent of the time with women, I fail to understand why so many in our society are afraid of women except for the most obvious reason: many men don’t want to lose the power and privilege they’ve given themselves and many women don’t want to upset the status quo (wow, that was a long sentence). I find those two excuses old, worn, useless, and boring. I’ve been hearing them all my life and find no merit, weight, or substance to those arguments. 

Let’s take a moment, please, to knock down some of the most frequent and idiotic contentions for women being in places of power.

“Women are the weaker sex.” Really? Have you ever tried pushing out a living being the size and weight of a bowling ball? Women themselves have proven this old trope false over and over. Furthermore, researchers at Duke University published a report proving scientifically that women are stronger and more resilient and better able to survive a catastrophe. Claiming that women are weaker is essentially declaring yourself to be an ignorant asshat.

“God says … “ Stop. There are multiple problems with anything claiming any kind of religious authority. First, religions, all of them, are belief systems and should never be taken as absolute law anywhere in any country for any reason. Doing so excludes and misrepresents anyone outside the dominant belief system, making the system inherently unjust. Second, God doesn’t say. Patriarchal inferences that have been preached from pulpits since 200 ADE are a mixture of mistranslation and misogyny. God doesn’t put women on the sideline. Third, religion is personal, not corporate. Just as religion doesn’t belong in government, it doesn’t belong in business, either, unless the business is in direct support of the religion (which is a bit suspect). Keep your religious beliefs in your pocket.

“Women want too much, they’re just being greedy,” says the people who have manipulated the system consistently in their favor across multiple millennia. Women aren’t being greedy, they’re simply wanting what they deserve: a fair share and a level playing field. Patriarchal practices that give preferences to men in hiring and advancement opportunities have to go completely away. Biased rules that keep women from competing directly with men need to be struck down. I am quite certain that the majority of men have no idea how much the system is totally skewed in their favor, even to the point that men’s clothes, toiletries, and haircuts are priced preferentially. Women getting the exact same advantages isn’t being greedy, it’s being fair, and goes double for people of color and triple for indigenous peoples.

“Historically, it’s always been the men … “ Shut the fuck up. The perception that the Western World has moved forward solely on the wit and intellect of men comes from books written by those same men who intentionally excluded women so they wouldn’t have to admit they’re not as bright as they want us to think. In fact, let’s pause this list to make a sublist. Here are a few women who outdid the men:

  • Sappho, who is overshadowed by Homer in founding Western literature. Homer was epic but Sappho understood the power of emotion and her verse flows much better.
  • Sacajawea, who carried a baby on her back traveling by foot over a thousand miles so that two self-aggrandizing explorers (Lewis & Clark) wouldn’t get lost and never heard from again. They owe her everything.
  • Marie Curie, who not only won the Nobel Prize (which is slanted to favor men) but did more for science than any combined dozen of her contemporaries.
  • Billie Holiday, who was to music what Marie Curie was to science, only she didn’t get the award. Her influence is unparalleled.
  • Ada Lovelace, generally considered the first computer programmer. She had to slow down to allow the boys to keep up.
  • Florence Nightingale changed all of medicine, not just what happens on the battlefield. The men in medicine “couldn’t be bothered” so she showed them how it should be done. Doctors still haven’t forgiven her for showing them up.
  • Boudica (c 63 ADE) led a Celtic army of over 100,000 and kicked the Romans out of Britain. She scared the fuck out of Nero and he wouldn’t even try going back.
  • Grace Hopper, the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard, she developed the COBOL computer language utilized in countless mainframe applications, such as the one that allows your check to be directly deposited into your account.
  • Lisa Meitner was the Austrian physicist you can thank for everything nuclear. Splitting the atom wouldn’t have been possible without her work.
  • Marie Van Brittan Brown was a woman of color who invented closed-circuit television as a way of fighting police negligence in her neighborhood.
  • Belah Louise Henry invented over 100 objects including the bobbin-free sewing machine and a vacuum ice cream freezer.

If you haven’t figured out by now, this list could reasonably go on for thousands and thousands of pages. The oldest poetry recorded was a song by the prophetess, Deborah, dating back to 1200 BCE. Women have always been there, taking the lead, picking up the slack, and not getting the credit for the amazing things they did. 

Women in places of power are only a threat to men who are afraid to lose theirs because they know their positions come not from earning them but from favor and preference and privilege. Get out of the way and let this progress happen. The world will be a better place for it.

For those who want more detailed information on this topic, let me suggest the following books:

Women in Power: A Manifesto, Beard, Mary; 12 December 17; Liveright, 128 pages

The Power, Alderman, Naomi; 10 October 2017; Little, Brown and Company, 400 pages

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger, Traister, Rebecca; 2 October 2018; Simon & Schuster, 320 pages

No Excuses: Nine Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, Feldt, Gloria, 28 September 2010; Seal Press, 384 pages

Fear of Gender-Neutral Language

Using Gender-Neutral Language

I’ll admit that this one is a relatively new fear based upon the comparative speed with which public awareness of gender non-binary and trans people has appeared in popular culture. This is also one of the most frequent issues we deal with in our own household now that Kat has come out as being non-binary. They frequently wear a pin at the salon that says “they/them” so clients who pay attention have a clue, but even one of their bosses, who is supportive, admits they don’t always “get it.”

So that we’re all on the same page, let’s start with a definition. Merriam-Webster defines the term simply as “not referring to either sex but only to people in general.” The definition isn’t the most helpful given that it doesn’t provide any direct examples, but it does get straight to the point. Gender-specific terms are no longer acceptable in a variety of places because their use limits the perspective, scope, and opportunity not only for non-binary and trans people but everyone who doesn’t want to be judged or limited by their gender.

If you’re not already encountering gender-neutral language (and you probably are but may not recognize it), it’s going to become increasingly common. The APA, MLA, and Chicago manuals of style all recognize gender-neutral language as standard, not the exception, as does the United Nations and the European Parliament. Some gender-neutral language has started popping up in newscasts, especially from socially-sensitive sources such as NPR, but they’re still not using gender-neutral pronouns as the default.

A large part of the fear and confusion around using gender-neutral language comes from the fact that not everyone wants to identify in a gender-neutral way. There are times, especially in conversations related to the children, that Kat still uses she/her. That is an exception they have invoked but creates confusion for some people.

Others are afraid of trying and “getting it wrong.” They don’t want to embarrass someone who is a friend but at the same time, they don’t want to embarrass themselves, either. Relax, most of the people directly affected by gendered language understand that the adoption of a different way of speaking takes time and effort. I still make mistakes when talking to Kat and she typically smiles and corrects me and we move on with the conversation. No big deal. Now, if someone is writing an article that’s going to be read by millions of people, by all means, have someone who is more sensitive to the language proofread that thing before you publish, but in general conversation stressing over every word is more likely to make the situation worse, or at least more awkward.

For those who are still unsure, there are a handful of resources worth bookmarking so you can review prior to walking into what may be a language-sensitive situation. The Harvard Extension School for Professional Development has this guide to Inclusive Language In Four Easy Steps. “Easy” may be a bit presumptive but the article is a convenient reminder. Fairygodboss also has a Go-To Pocket-Dictionary for gender-neutral terms and pronouns but be aware that one has to sign up for an account before accessing the material, a practice that I find a bit sketchy.

Alternatively, Suzannah Weiss wrote an article for Bustle a couple of years ago that I find helpful. 7 Gender-Neutral Terms We Should All Be Using gets to the heart of the language we use most often. Without copy/pasting the entire article, here are the essentials:

  1. They. No, it’s not plural. It’s been used to refer to a single entity since the 14th century. You can do this.
  2. Mx. Use instead of Ms. Miss, Mrs. or Mr. It’s easier written than spoken, but you get the point.
  3. Humankind instead of mankind. Humanity or people also work depending on the situation.
  4. Partner or Significant Other. Personally, I refer to Kat as my partner. Significant Other feels dismissive but that may just be me.
  5. First-Year Student instead of Freshman. Personally, I’d like to see that classification carried through graduate school. Tenth-year student, anyone? Besides, it makes one feel as though they study at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and that’s cool on its own merit.
  6. Artificial, synthetic or machine-made as an alternative to man-made. This one can get a bit sticky as hand-made or person-made may be the more correct term in some instances. Context is your key here.
  7. Parent, sibling, and child in situations where referring to family members. Some sources refer to the terms Grandy (for grandparent) and Kiddo (for offspring) but Grandy reminds me of a Nashville-based restaurant chain and Kiddo strikes me as flippant so be careful with those.

The fear of gender-neutral language is simply a matter of custom. Children in today’s schools have much less difficulty with making the switch because more teachers are using gender-neutral language in school. Media outlets are making the switch so we’ll be hearing and reading those terms more frequently which helps alleviate the fears. Listen, watch, and it will all be okay. No need to be afraid.

Fear of Democratic Socialism

Democratic Socialism

In these politically-sensitive times, almost every label carries some negative and partisan angst to it but nothing seems to stir the fear more than the term Democratic Socialism. Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez both self-identify under this banner and that scares the living daylights out of a lot of people. So much so, that the president routinely stokes those fears by intentionally misdefining it in his campaign speeches. 

Let’s get this straight once and for all, DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISM IS NOT PURE SOCIALISM. And even then, socialism probably isn’t what you think it is. Let’s start with a textbook definition of the term. Merriam-Webster drops back to the term Social Democracy which it defines as “a democratic welfare state that incorporates both capitalist and socialist practices.” That definition stems from the terms initial usage in 1848, however, and as such I’m not convinced that the “welfare state” portion of that term applies. I prefer the definition offered by  Mark A. Peterson, a professor of public policy, political science, and law at UCLA, who defines Democratic socialism is “a call for the democratically-elected to use the public sector to promote greater equality and opportunity.” [source]

Still, the definition is loaded with fear because it espouses something other than pure capitalism, which every child since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution has been taught as the only way to provide equality and fair play for everyone. What they should have been taught is that capitalism provides an artificial sense of equality and fair play for white, privileged people who are predominantly male. The fact of an ever-widening wage gap is sufficient evidence that pure capitalism fosters greed and wealth hoarding. 

Yet, we’ve seen situations proving that pure socialism doesn’t work well either. China is our most visible example of how government control over business leads to inherent corruption and unchecked authoritarianism. Corruption leads to favoritism and authoritarianism prevents people from being able to appropriately respond to injustices caused by corruption. While the system as applied in many countries does a good job of making sure everyone has a base wage, moving beyond that base is difficult and the inability to respond to corruption guarantees that the elite maintains the wealth, as it does with capitalism. 

Both systems are far from ideal, both have their vocal champions, and both leave millions of people in poverty, which is a problem. Social Democracy aims to address those shortcomings by blending the better aspects of both systems.

What’s the difference? To some degree, the answer depends on who has been asked the question. There is no definitive single source that I’ve found, so let me see if I can lay it out in the following chart.

SocialismDemocratic Socialism
The government maintains control over most everything with very little private ownership.Private ownership is still the rule but government regulation makes sure corporations don’t put profit ahead of more important issues.
Government-controlled corporations retain the majority of power. Power resides primarily in the working class 
People serve the corporations/government.Corporations/government serve the people.
Wealth remains the domain of the elite.Wealth is distributed fairly across the working class.
Money corruptly influences government decisions.Money is removed from governmental influence.
Social programs funded through exceptionally high taxes on everyone.Social programs primarily funded through taxes on corporations and the wealthy with average workers contributing at a modest level.

What Democratic Socialism fundamentally aims to address is the lack of control working-class citizens have over their economy, their government, their healthcare, their education, and their environment. It is progressively oriented toward what benefits the average consumer rather than a handful of shareholders.

What is important to remember, however, is that any political movement, no matter how well-intentioned, is only as good as the people involved. Corruption can and will take over any system where it can get a foothold. Our country’s founders recognized that potential and allowed for those most corrupt to be rooted out of government without significant defense through impeachment and recall elections. Those methods are not witchhunts nor are they undemocratic. They are necessary and should probably be used with greater fervor in order to weed out the persistent corruption that seems to have taken over the electoral system. 

Democratic Socialism is nothing to fear unless one is part of the 0.01 percent who owns the 88% of all wealth in the United States. For everyone else, the movement holds the potential for an improved economy and a more responsive government.

What we should fear are those who don’t vote or participate at all. That is where the real evil lies.

Poor People

Poor People

The topic of poverty is making its way onto the political charts as one of the issues likely to become a major talking point during next year’s presidential election. Economics is always one of the top factors in a presidential election but this time around, the president’s inevitable boasts about having “the best economy ever” are going to be met with some hard facts he’s not going to like.

Just last year, the U.N. Human Rights Council published a report on extreme poverty and human rights in the United States that made some painful points:

  • There are 40 million people here who live in poverty, while 18.5 million live in extreme poverty and 5.3 million are in Third World conditions.
  • Out of the OECD, the States have the highest youth poverty rates.
  • Citizens are sicker and live shorter lives than in other well-off democracies.
  • The U.S. has the highest rate of income inequality in the West.
  • People frequently talk of poverty in “caricatured narratives” and racial stereotypes.

The administration says talk like that overlooks the good they’re doing, pointing to low unemployment number and a continued rise in GDP. However, Foreign Policy was quick to point out that the administration had faked its numbers. Not a big surprise for this presidency, but one that results in millions of people not being eligible for the economic assistance they need to survive.

What’s more, millions of Americans actually support the administration’s actions on poverty, especially the recalculation of who they consider “poor.” 

As a society, we don’t like talking about poverty. We don’t want to see poor people on the street, we avoid driving through poverty-stricken parts of town, we don’t eat in places where poor people are likely to be present, and while some enjoy touting how much they help the poor through their charitable giving, we don’t want them getting persistent aid such as food stamps or cash assistance from the government. 

We don’t even want to go to church with poor people. One long-term study from the Quarterly Journal of Economics shows that as churches become more competitive, something that started with the Reformation in 1517, their economic priorities changed. Church buildings needed to be bigger and more ornate. Sermons needed to be more eloquent and pastors needed to use more popular jargon. Worship services relied more on entertainment content than theological accuracy. Helping the poor became something a church does “for the community” because the people they are helping aren’t welcome or comfortable inside the sanctuary.

We, as a society, are afraid of poor people. There’s even a word for it: Aporophobia. Spanish philosopher Adela Cortina is credited with coining the word. She explains that a large part of what fuels our xenophobia and racism toward others is actually a fear of their poverty. This especially occurs in our attitudes toward migrants and refugees. We don’t mind that people come from other countries, we mind that they’re poor, an attitude reflected in the government’s recent changes for visa qualifications.

This isn’t a new condition. Looking through dozens of historical references, I can find quotes about people fearing poverty well back into the 11th and 12th centuries. One of the most poignant, though, comes from Robert Walser’s 1907 book, The Tanners. In it, he writes:

“How reprehensible it is when those blessed with commodities insist on ignoring the poor. Better to torment them, force them into indentured servitude, inflict compulsion and blows—this at least produces a connection, fury and a pounding heart, and these too constitute a form of relationship. But to cower in elegant homes behind golden garden gates, fearful lest the breath of warm humankind touch you, unable to indulge in extravagances for fear they might be glimpsed by the embittered oppressed, to oppress and yet lack the courage to show yourself as an oppressor, even to fear the ones you are oppressing, feeling ill at ease in your own wealth and begrudging others their ease, to resort to disagreeable weapons that require neither true audacity nor manly courage, to have money, but only money, without splendor: That’s what things look like in our cities at present”

Our fear of poor people is long-standing and ridiculous and without any merit whatsoever. We know this, and yet we continue to perpetuate the attitude. By relegating poverty assistance to something we expect charitable organizations to handle, we shove the topic out the back door, having satisfied our conscience that by giving to a charity we have absolved ourselves of needing to do anything further when, in fact, we are abdicating our responsibility to actually help people.

We’ve even demonized being poor. Writer and activist Shane Claiborne says of poverty,

When people begin moving beyond charity and toward justice and solidarity with the poor and oppressed, as Jesus did, they get in trouble. Once we are actually friends with the folks in struggle, we start to ask why people are poor, which is never as popular as giving to charity. One of my friends has a shirt marked with the words of late Catholic bishop Dom Helder Camara: “When I fed the hungry, they called me a saint. When I asked why people are hungry, they called me a communist.” Charity wins awards and applause but joining the poor gets you killed. People do not get crucified for living out of love that disrupts the social order that calls forth a new world. People are not crucified for helping poor people. People are crucified for joining them.”

Feeling guilty yet? You probably should be. We all are. I have found it repeatedly true that even poor people don’t like associating with other poor people. Other poor people aren’t likely to help one escape their own poverty. Instead, there’s an odd “I’m worse off than you” contest that often develops as competition for limited charitable resources often determines whether the power stays on or the quality of food on the table.

Societies have struggled with their fear of the poor for centuries so I’m not foolish enough to believe that just saying “we need to change,” is going to result in any significant difference. However, let me leave you with five ways you can make a difference.

  1. Remember that poor people don’t always look poor. Many people who dress nicely in public struggle to have anything to eat when they go home at night. Many poor people work multiple jobs. Being poor isn’t necessarily the absence of money, it’s the absence of enough to cover life’s basic needs.
  2. If you decide to help someone in need, do it in a subtle manner that does not create undue attention. That selfie you take congratulating yourself on your generosity is embarrassing for them.
  3. Don’t judge someone when they finally get a chance to do something nice, like go to a decent restaurant or a concert. You have no idea how long they had to save, or who might have helped make that moment possible. 
  4. Avoid using phrases like, “It’s doesn’t cost that much,” or “Who doesn’t have $10 for …” What seems inexpensive to you may represent the cost of a week’s groceries for someone else.
  5. Be the friend who’s willing to stay home rather than insisting on going out. Even going for coffee is too much for a lot of people. Don’t be afraid to have a conversation for once.
All We Have To Fear

All We Have To Fear

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his first inaugural speech in 1932, the situation across the United States was dire. The stock market had gone bust, many people lost everything they had, the economic gap between the very rich and the very poor was almost as immense as it is now. Fascism was raising its ugly head across Europe. Prohibition had resulted in a new wave of organized crime. Unemployment was high across the Midwestern states, causing many people to move West in search of farm jobs. The picture was about as bleak as bleak can get.

Against that backdrop is when Roosevelt made his famous statement (which may have been an unattributed quote), “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” People took that to heart, fought through their fears, took on the Fascists, paid higher taxes for the good of everyone, and by the time FDR died, we were the most prosperous country in the world. 

We can get there again, but to do so we have to shelve not only these five fears but others such as fearing LGBTQ+ people, fearing immigrants, fearing people who don’t speak English, fearing science and education, fearing radically new ideas, fearing youth, fearing aging, fearing risk, and fearing letting go.

How do we overcome those fears? There are a lot of articles and blogs with a lot of advice, but I think Phil and Barry at The Tools put it most concisely.

  1. Accept it
  2. Identify it
  3. Feel it
  4. Face it
  5. Practice it

I might add one more thing: Stop listening to those who peddle fear, especially those in positions of power or authority. A political campaign based on fear-mongering is only going to generate more fear in office.  A pulpit whose message preaches fear is incapable of spreading love. A teacher who peddles in fear gives the wrong lesson. Media that force-feeds fear makes us weak and uninformed.

We have no reason to be afraid of these things. Instead, our determination should be based on the late Gene Roddenberry’s mission for Star Trek’s Enterprise: To boldly go where no version of yourself has gone before. We CAN overcome these fears. We CAN find new courage to do things differently. 

We CAN cook the entire ham in one pan.

There’s no need to fear. Go out and be better.

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