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Fear prevents us from facing our country's challenges

Write to the Point


“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” Plato, Greek philosopher, 427 – 347 B.C.

“Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, U.S. poet, essayist and lecturer, 1803-1882.

I never realized how fearful a culture we have become until I left for a while. To be sure, there are things to be afraid of in our country, especially on a personal level.

But for the most part, much of what we’re afraid of we shouldn’t be because they’re not rational fears and — worse — they’re fears trumped up by people who benefit by making us fearful.

One of the first things I did when I found an Internet connection on my way home from Guatemala last Monday was to check my Facebook page. A post that came up was from a friend asking people how they felt about letting two U.S. missionaries infected with the deadly Ebola virus back into the country for treatment.

You’d think from the responses people thought the disease so infectious they would come down with it by simply looking at the word “Ebola.”

I was amazed at the fear and mistrust in our medical system — one of, if not the most, advanced in the world — and how fear had subdued any feelings of compassion toward the workers and their families.

Even before I left Guatemala I got a reminder of our fear.

As a group of mission workers from California boarded the same plane in Guatemala City, I caught a fragment of the conversation they were having about returning home: “Back to the land of stranger-danger.”

“Stranger-danger” is the warning we give kids about talking to strangers in public places.

I don’t know where these people were going, had been working or what they were doing, but it’s interesting that one of their first thoughts about returning home was to be wary of strangers.

Fear of strangers was one of the furthest things from consideration among those in the team I went with, and there are plenty of reasons to be fearful in Guatemala. Even the most innocent of gestures or glances, might be cause for violence.

One day, the newspaper, La Prensa Libre, ran a feature story about gangs extorting money from delivery companies by threatening to kill their drivers if they didn’t pay the demand. Over 850 drivers have been killed, gunned down in the streets, in the past two years. Companies now have security officers literally riding shotgun on deliveries.

In fact, violence is so bad in Guatemala, many stores have armed guards at their entrances in Guatemala City and in the countryside. Imagine walking past an armed guard every time you went to the grocery store to pick up milk, or signed for a UPS delivery as a uniformed man with a shotgun looked on.

Our fears have led to paralysis in dealing with important issues. Every time a meaningful discussion or solution on health care, immigration policy or environmental concerns begins to shape up the conservative media pundits and politicians slam us over the head with the “it will cost jobs” hammer.

Yet, according to a recent Pew Research questionnaire, 48 percent of 1,896 experts “envision a future in which robots and digital agents have displaced significant numbers of both blue- and white-collar workers — with many expressing concern that this will lead to vast increases in income inequality, masses of people who are effectively unemployable and breakdowns in the social order” by 2025.

I don’t hear any right-wing media talking heads or politicians mounting any anti-robotics campaign. Do you? Wonder why.

I suspect to some degree, fear of one sort or another has played parts in our culture in the past. But it seems we used to be more welcoming of a challenge, like the challenge confronting global warming produces.

After all, we went to the Moon, defeated Fascism, tamed the Wild West and built one of the most advanced societies in history. Can’t we tackle climate change?

It also seems we used to be more welcoming, or at least thought we were. To quote Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus,” “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Remember these words? They’re part of our “welcome” sign. Hard to imagine any more of a “wretched refuse” or someone more “tempest-tost” than a child fleeing violence and poverty in their homeland.

“You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind.” Dale Carnegie, 1888-1955, American writer.

John McCallum can be reached at


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