Unpicking our fear of one another

I love the country: the peace, the nearness of the elements, how obvious it is that this world is so much more than human. But after seven years of space and quiet, I can once again appreciate the city: the tumult, the vibrancy of human beings in all our diverse ways of being, the pure busy-ness of it all.

Cities and fear

There is, however, a fear that sometimes takes possession of people who live in large cities, or who visit them, a paranoia that the person sitting next to them on the bus, standing behind them in the supermarket queue, passing them in the street is about to do something dangerous, something violent; that their fellow human beings are, in short, terrifying.

It is a largely unfounded fear if one looks objectively at statistics, yet in the face of daily reports of random stabbings and planned terrorist attacks, such fear seems reasonable, sensible, even necessary for daily survival. It is a fear that stops us from responding to one another, smiling, even acknowledging one another’s existence. More and more, people seem to be missing a sense of connection with their fellow human beings, let alone with the more-than-human universe. Many long for a feeling of belonging. Social cohesion is a current government buzzword and at last there is official acknowledgement that development is about more than economics.

Connection in the face of fear

Yet how are we to be socially cohesive, how are we to make those connections with one another that such cohesion requires, when we are afraid of one another? In the face of such fear, it takes great courage to attempt to connect with someone we have never spoken to, who may seem very different from us in appearance, dress, work, daily habits, faith or in any number of other ways.

We can begin in small ways; we can say hello to our neighbours and our work colleagues, we can be friendly to people in the supermarket queue. We can go further; we can begin to notice and question our assumptions about the people we see and meet, we can ask if what we read about in newspapers and hear on the radio is the full story. We can notice when we are afraid, and make a choice to be courageous.

We may not manage it all the time, or even every day – we may only manage it once a week, or once a month – but every time we make that choice to be courageous, to connect, we start to unpick the fear that keeps us separate from one another and come one step closer to that sense of togetherness and community for which so many of us long.

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