Fear Kills

Here at Community UU, our theme for December is "Letting go." The “Letting Go” issue of On the Journey is out (HERE), with material on which to reflect. Our journey groups this month will allow for plunging into this important topic and going deep. (Not in a Journey Group? Sign up HERE.)

Letting go is a central spiritual idea. Oriah Mountain Dreamer said,
“Sometimes I think there are only two instructions we need to follow to develop and deepen our spiritual life: slow down and let go.”
Letting go overlaps with so many other important theological and spiritual topics – issues that matter for our spiritual growth.
  • Forgiveness: let go of that grudge.
  • Death: let go of your secret illusions of immortality in order to live fully in this brief span.
  • Faith – because letting go “requires we believe that, once we release our grips, life will not leave us empty-handed.
  • It takes faith to let go of what we’ve got.
  • Gratitude: this is what prepares us to trust and let go.
  • It’s letting go of wanting things to be different to make room for being grateful for how they are.
  • Love – because, as the saying goes, if you love something, let it go.
  • Mindfulness: let go of the past in order to live in the present.
  • Justice: letting go of our unjust privilege.
  • Transformation: Because we have to let go of clinging to our usual patterns in order to open up to become something new.
There’s the kind of letting go that implies that you’ve had a hold on something. Release it.

And there’s the kind of letting go that just means allowing things to proceed – not trying to control or hold them. Let them go: allow them to continue.

And, of course, for those of you who have seen a certain animated Disney film, “let it go” also seems to have something to do with self-assertion and independence and building a solitary ice palace, your soul spiraling in frozen fractals all around, and the cold never bothering you anyway.

Elsa’s aria also affirms that in letting it go,
“the fears that once controlled me, can’t get to me at all.”
Today, the letting go that I want to particularly focus on is letting go of fear. There are a lot of ways one can go on the topic of “letting go,” and, in light of recent events, I think what we most need to talk right now about is fear. (Our Journey Groups will, of course, explore the many other facets of letting go.)

Our nation seems to be in the grip of some powerful fears. ISIS spooks us. Why did the Paris bombings last month grab our hearts and attention so much more than a bombing in Beirut the day before did? I suspect part of the reason is that when it happened in Paris, it scared us a lot more. Beirut seems like another world – the victims another culture, another skin tone, not really relevant to US whites. But if terrorist strikes can kill 100 in Paris -- Western and predominantly white -- maybe they could do that in New York. Maybe what happened in San Bernardino last Wednesday was just the beginning.

We’re scared of Jihadists – and also scared of how that fear might lead some our country’s less stable citizens to anti-Muslim violence, lashing out, blaming all Islam, attacking mosques, catching us in the collateral damage, maybe. So, suddenly, say, a planned field trip to visit a mosque seems scary – even though any rational assessment of risks will recognize that the chances of being killed in a traffic accident on the way to the visit are probably a few hundred times greater than the chance of being killed by an explosion or gunfire while there.

Fear itself typically does us more damage than the things we’re afraid of. Just after 9-11, for instance, fear of airplanes went up as you might imagine. Analyzing patterns of car use and airplane travel after 9-11 shows that there was a shift from airplanes to cars that lasted about one year. We have pretty good ways to measure total vehicle miles traveled, and, during the year it took a year for the fear of airplanes to die down, return to normal levels, we saw people putting in more miles by car. The thing is, airplane travel is safer. The fatalities per vehicle mile traveled stayed constant, so as automobile travel went up, so did traffic fatalities.

Gerd Gegerenzer analyzed the numbers, and was able to deduce that the extra car travel in the year after 9-11 killed just shy of 1600 people. That is, the number of Americans killed in car crashes as a direct result of the switch from planes to cars was 1,595. Those were nearly 1600 people who would not have died if the ratio of plane travel to car travel had stayed the same as it was the years preceding 9-11.

The actual collapse of the twin towers killed less than 3,000 people. The increased fear of airplanes over the next year killed over half again that many. Fear kills.

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This is part 1 of 3 of "Letting Go: Fear"
Part 2: Your Head vs. Your Gut
Part 3: How to Let Go of Fear

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P.S. Speaking of "Let It Go" -- you might get a kick out of this Google Translate parody:

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