While you may think you have nothing in common with the Gen Xers or the Boomers, let me open the idea that we all share the common thread of love, hope, dreams, hurts, griefs, joy, shame and, my personal nemesis: FEAR. Fear of other people’s opinions, fear of the future, fear losing a job, a loved one, a reputation, even a social status. Often, when I was in a position to speak to your peers I noticed the willingness to speak an opinion, but the fear of asking a question. One of your brave fellow Millennials spoke to me about this with the reminder that much of your lives have played out online, in social media, in something recordable. You all learned that if you didn’t fly under the radar or do it perfectly, you could be mocked incessantly by your own peers- online- so that even others around the world could freely comment. You have learned protection then by allowing the fear of what could be to dominate your thoughts. You feared looking stupid. You feared looking silly. You feared looking like a failure or like a loser to your friends.
This is not unique to your generation in any other way except the recordable devices. Fear has always been part of our makeup. It’s the thing that makes people act in either protection (real fear for their lives) or bat-crap crazy mania (neurotic fear). I first learned this lesson when fear, the neurotic kind, took over my life. I started ruminating on what could happen, how I might be hurt, how it might look, what I was going to say, where I was going to move because I couldn’t handle the shame of it. SNOWBALL as I call it.. starts small and rolls away from us and before you know it, a softball sized snowball is an avalanche, rolling over you, suffocating your dreams, hopes and your life.
The thing about snowball fear is that it invades, yet it does nothing. It cripples without actually physically harming us. I listened to a man in a restaurant this week speaking about how worried he was for his job. He was afraid he was going to lose it because he is turning 50 and the younger kids are better with computers. His fear, in the matter of one conversation moved him from a statement of fear to a decision to quit his job, try to go back to school and get a new one all in the span on 15 minutes. Fear takes over and this morning, as I continue to observe online behavior, in person behavior and the television pundit discussions on the morning show, I am stunned at how fear permeates everything right now, except the people who should be most cautious. That’s also the thing about fear. If anyone begins to ally with fear, begins to work alongside and becomes helpful in spreading fear, then they become more bold. Look at the White Nationalists, the KKK. Look at ISIS and other fear-based organizations. They are bold and loud because fear (and it’s twin, doubt) leave them alone, encouraging them to keep fear-mongering.
I can’t do anything about another’s fear. Neither can you. So, my friends, don’t try to change minds. Don’t step in and shame or invalidate another’s fear either. Fear is deeply personal like books and love and underwear choices. No one fear fits all. Fear is also going to strike at the things you love most, the things you value most. The thing about fear is that is always exposes the opposite: Love. What you love the most, what you value the most, what you hold to the highest personal platform in your life, that is what fear will target the most and the fiercest. I told you I would recommend books and here is another: The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.
This book is satire. It’s intended to use sarcasm and irony, ridicule and hyperbole to prove a point. Satire is a fantastic genre of literature and journalism but its nuance is lost with so many people who don’t get it, who trade in hyperbole as fact and who use sarcasm and ridicule to shame others rather than as a teaching tool. When I first read this as a high school student, I laughed and thought it interesting. I had not yet been in the “real world” and had been rather sheltered and protected by my community and my parents. But recently, it came into my world again. I didn’t laugh this time.
Screwtape is demon of Hell. His letters to his nephew point out how to manipulate “patients” which are, of course, humans. The writing is superb, even in the long-winded style of Lewis. He was brilliant but he was also very sharply funny. Think- English version of a Stephen Colbert. There are a lot of themes in the letters: religion, patriotism, community, church, etc. But the overriding tool by which the demons manipulate, leverage and control patients is through fear. Fear becomes the weapon, softly deployed and violently effective. It reminds me of Thomas Jefferson’s statement that he would vow eternal hostility toward any form of tyranny over the mind of man. Fear is Tyranny, my friends. It’s used to control, it’s used to turn us against each other. Fear motivates us to fight each other, to fear each other, to lash out. Fear drives us to snowballing, from speaking words of hate to committing acts of violence. Softly deployed. Violently and cruelly effective.
My friends, I implore you: Look at fear, recognize it, see it, and breath a loud “HELL NO” into it. Here is a good example that I saw yesterday from one of your peers. I applaud this sentiment and this statement because it does exactly what is needed. Martin Niemoller was a pastor who is best remembered for this quote:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Yesterday, one of your peers made this statement: First, they came for the Muslims, and I said HELL NO.
My friends, this is the kind of courage that will change this world from intolerant, violent, fearful and unfriendly into the exclusive, open and courageous place you all hope for. oh, and about looking like a failure or looking stupid in front of your friends? Is there no better place than to look like or actually be a fool than with those who love you the deepest? Perhaps, if you have no one who loves you this deeply, who allows you to be foolish, who calls you into yourself reveling in the silliness and the sorrows of you life, perhaps you should reach for new people.
Take over the world, my Millennials.
I love you so-