I have a friend who lives in a nice suburb with elegant houses, mini hedges and luxuriously expensive cars. She and her partner recently completed a swath of renovations, which included finishing the street-facing fence with a fresh white coat of paint.
"That's a blank canvas, waiting to be painted on," said a friend of theirs, who lived around the corner. "Any day now, one of the youth from [a suburb not far away] is going to come and tag their mark all over it."
For days, my friend told me, that's all she could see. Every morning when she woke up, and every evening when she returned from work, she was grateful that today hadn't been the day her wall had been the victim of a tagging attack. "But it's due to happen," she thought, so she spent a large sum of money having it guarded from graffiti, 'just in case' it was to be vandalised.
I found the anecdote amusing, as if watching the fears that existed in her without realising they could reside in me too.
Sure enough, within only a week I returned to the food caravan I have helped get to its final stages, but now I could only see it as a blank canvas waiting to be vandalised.
I have been around this vehicle for two years and never seen it in that light before. But since the seed was planted in my head I couldn't help but let the idea grow into a fear that unnecessarily consumed my view of this vehicle.
In one of my favourite TED talks, Hans and Ola Rosling put up a strategy for how to not be ignorant about the world.
They demonstrate live on stage how easy it is to be misinformed about the world. They also show how easily we can live with the knowledge of the likelihood of certain events happening that is not based on anything but inaccurate data.
They noted that we all come with a personal bias that is not representative of the world. This bias exists inside each of us—no matter where we have come from. Add to that the fact we often live with out-dated facts and access to information, as well as news media sensationalising one-off dramatic outliers, and we end up with a skewed mind-set not grounded in facts or reality but in anomalies and fear.
The older I have become the more I have seen that fear and love seem to be mutually exclusive—opposing labels on a horizontal spectrum. When people fear someone they have a hard time coming to terms with showing them love. What good does it do, then, to be building our lives on irrationality or fear of others?
In the Bible there is an often-quoted verse: "perfect love casts out all fear." But how easy it is to ignore the succeeding line that someone "who is afraid does not have perfect love."
In a world where there is an unlimited array of sources from which to find 'news,' rather than a defined set of pages in a newspaper or a one-hour timeslot like the 6 o'clock news, we can now be bombarded with sensationalism and outliers of events more easily than ever before.
Not only that but we can now find micro-groups or filter bubbles from around the world on the internet. These allow us to confirm our internal biases and stay immersed in irrational thought and behaviour which might have otherwise been put in context against a much greater story, or at least not allowed to fester.
Don't get me wrong, the availability of information from around the world and ability to find support for microcosms of society is a fantastic opportunity—one that should be harnessed for the good of everyone. But if we are not intentionally moving both individually and collectively towards a more loving place in the world, then the information that exists can instead empower, manifest and perpetuate fear.
Let us not forget that Jesus said the most important commandment was to love God and one another, including our enemies. Or, in the words of Frederick Buechner,
[I]f we are to love our neighbours, before doing anything else we must see our neighbours. With our imaginations as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.
May fear be constantly expelled from us all so that we will be known for being people of love, both in our hearts and in our homes, forevermore.
Matt Browning is a storyteller and lover of ideas. He is currently setting up a social enterprise for youth unemployment in Rotorua, New Zealand— taking youth who are dropping out of high school or coming out of youth prison, and hiring them full time so that they can get the experience needed to be hired in the future.
Matt Browning's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/matt-browning.html