We are what we eat

I’ve been thinking about how we use the word Fear. I think we’ve got it wrong. When I say that, I don’t mean people have been getting the definition wrong. Instead, the problem is the very open-ended definition google pulls up:  as a noun, it’s “an unpleasant emotion caused by threat”; and as a verb it means to “be afraid of someone or something likely to be dangerous”. In these definitions, there’s no requirement for there to be actual impending harm, just the perceived likelihood. If the perceived level of threat goes up or down, we are expected to use a different word. Up becomes terror or horror; down becomes alarm or distress. As with any sliding scale, people will disagree over the tipping points between each change of level. Why am I saying I think we’ve got it wrong? It’s because I worry that some common usages of the word conceal what’s actually going on and dilutes what we believe fear to be. We are easy to distract. The google definition leaves off an essential clause. So, let me start by adding it in. As a noun, fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by threat ….. when past lived experience tells you the threat is real and you have previously experienced its consequences. As a verb, it is to be afraid of something or someone likely to be dangerous ….. because you live with the consequences of that something or someone being dangerous in the past. Fear is not born of hearsay or gossip or over-indulgence in particular one-sided opinions. That’s something different. For example: Fear of Missing Out ….. That’s concealing self-centeredness. The fact that you’ve missed out in the past, and it didn’t feel nice, doesn’t justify the use of the word Fear. If you think it does, then you’re looking at a really bad case of self-centeredness. Fear of the Unknown ….. That’s just ignorance in disguise. Walking around a blind corner and running into a post might make you justifiably cautious next time you come to a blind corner, but that can’t be a Fear of the Unknown because you know that you can’t see around blind corners. Fear of the Other ….. Well, here’s where it gets difficult. Some will say that Fear of the Other is also ignorance. I’m not so sure because the Other has been defined, usually, in opposition to ourselves. As a result, we don’t feel ignorant. Our belief in what they are is reinforced by people we recognise and whose opinions we value. To counter this, the argument goes, we only need to get to know other people to see they are the same as us, and our fear will go away. No, Fear of the Other is more than ignorance and it takes a lot of unravelling. Many older and wiser than I have tried. In my simple world, I’m leaning towards Fear of the Other as the need for a sense of belonging. It can be a very strong need. To be accepted, we must also fear what the group claims to fear. Isn’t that what politicians do to gain our acceptance and votes? Having decided to seek acceptance from a particular group, we then learn as much as we can about their likes and dislikes, first to be accepted and then to move up the social hierarchy, securing our future as we go. The powerful then fed the group to ensure cohesion, hierarchy and a sense of stability. We are what we eat Reification by Repetition – that’s when a statement, no matter how true or false, solidifies within a culture merely because of the amount of times it is repeated. The more often it is repeated, the more entrenched it becomes. It is believed not because of its merits but because of the depth and breadth of its existence. That repetition happens in all kinds of ways. I was standing at the bus stop one evening after another long day of both study and work. It was dark. I was tired. Two people walked nearby, not particularly close. There was plenty of space between us. They did nothing that could be interpreted as threatening. Yet I felt an apprehension that surprised me. In thinking on that moment, I understood why Romper Stomper (the movie) received such bad press when it was first released. I’d watched it in class (film studies) earlier in the week. And now, here I was, alone as was often the case but reacting in a very unusual way to people who simply (and only) looked like some of the characters in the movie. It was a sobering lesson on how complicated Fear of the Other can be. I have not re-watched that movie and no longer feel that same apprehension. I avoided being exposed to repetition. And this is where I get to my main point …. if this emotion must be stoked and fed, if it goes away when we change the images and culture we feed off, then it is/was not fear. Instead, it was only identity, that malleable and changeable thing that we use to define who we are and why we exist. And if you don’t understand that, then be grateful because it might mean you’ve never experienced anything so terrible that it embedded within you the ability to fear.

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