It was somewhere between 2:00 and 3:00 a.m., and I was watching television in bed. I looked up to see the shadowy image overhead of a flying creature about an inch and a half long. My mind went straight to angry wasp.
I turned on the light, only to find I could not identify the insect. My thoughts already in fight-or-flight, I decided the odd-looking thing had to be dangerous. But instead of doing what I would normally do with an identified danger, I irrationally decided this poor thing needed to die. I terrorized it with fell sweeps of the broom, until it flew—beautiful in flight, I must add—to the nearby curtains and tried to hide. I swatted at the curtains to crush anything that might be there—and then I went looking for something, anything I might spray at the creature’s way should it resurface. I settled for Lysol. Lysol! How terrible is that? Could you imagine being poisoned to death with that stuff?
The insect, which I was able to identify the next day as completely harmless, did indeed die. I think about what I put the poor thing through in its final moments, simply because it had made the mistake of getting trapped in my home. But it left me thinking about the things we rationalize when we let fear get the best of us: I let go of a core value simply because I perceived danger and lost sight of all else.
It got me thinking about the terrible things people can justify doing to other people—simply because fear has gotten the better of them. Hatred begins with fear. Always. People fear what they don’t understand. When they feel threatened, they shift into fight-or-flight. That’s when all reason and logic fly out the window. When we turn other groups of humans into the scary thing flying around in the dark room, we don’t think about the potential horrors we might inflict when we go reaching for the Lysol.
We look back at events through history, at atrocities like the Holocaust, and say to ourselves, “How could people let such a thing happen?” And then, right now, we have families being torn apart for weeks or more, terrified children being held in cages like animals—and half the population saying, “We’re doing the right thing.” We have people rallying religious groups into this fear/hate, saying, “This is biblical.” And people are believe them. And then those less disposed to the religious slant saying, “Well, the law behind this has been around for a decade—and we’re just doing the right thing by deciding suddenly to enforce it in this specific way; blame the people opposing us because it’s their law. It’s enough to make your head spin.
Thing is, a lot of terrible things have happened due to people acting in moments of passion, thinking they were doing the right thing. No one, save the rare sociopath, believes they’re the bad guy. Good people can be driven to hateful thoughts, and they can be driven to do bad things in perfectly good conscience. Good people don’t want to think their actions might, in fact, be harmful. That’s where justification comes into play, and fear drives that as well.
The Nazis believed they were performing a service with their genocide; they’d become capable of performing their terrible acts because they’d become blinded to their evils. They had allowed themselves to get swept up in the fury that had slowly taken their countries, and it had transformed their views of an entire race of people and then some. Jews and other target groups became a threat; they were to be feared, and therefore they were to be hated. That fear and hate had to permeate before such horrors could ensue. Empathy first had to be revoked.
The revocation of empathy we’re currently seeing with the Mexican population terrifies me. If you cannot place yourself in those terrified children’s shoes, you’ve succumbed to the fear/hate monster. If you’re a Christian, I must ask you: What would Jesus do with those children? With their families? Would he love them, invite them to his home, and wash their feet—or would he put them in cages? If you can find any scenario justifying the latter, you’ve succumbed to the fear/hate monster. This monster has empowered hate groups, and it works actively to place a wedge between the common people. This weakens everyone.
We’ve fallen into an age where goodwill toward our fellow human has atrophied. We’ve allowed ourselves to get so caught up in our fears, we’ve lost sight of the bigger picture. Most of us are just doing our best to survive, grasping desperately for our tiny share, that all we know is how to be on the defensive. We develop “us v. them” mentalities over perceived differences, grouping people by culture over character. We’ve fallen into an age of fear.
And fear makes people do irrational, hateful, inhuman things.
I know we’re better than the horrors recently seen across our country. We are not a nation of hate—but we need to let go of our fear if we don’t want to become one. We need to retain our empathy, our humanity, treat others as we’d have them treat us. If we don’t, we will go down in history for our country's crimes. People will say, “How did they let those things happen?”
And those of us who could only idly stand by while other people suffered will only be able to shrug and reply, “Fear can lead good people to do bad things.”
What do we have beyond the hope that fear doesn't prevail? Was there any stopping the Nazis from their crimes--any point when those watching from the outside could have identified what fear was manifesting and nipped it in the bud--or are cycles of fear/hate like the Holocaust inevitable? How long does mistreatment and antipathy have to escalate before we can say, "Well... we didn't see that coming"?