When I was a kid, there was a Bigfoot movie.
I remember this because I saw the commercial for it just once – and slept wearing a hockey helmet for about five weeks afterwards. I remember my dad, sitting at the foot of my bed, explaining that being attacked by a mythical forest monster in suburban Ontario was statistically unlikely. It didn’t matter. To this day, when I’m camping, I keep a paddle in arms reach at night.
There was also Jaws. My sisters smuggled me in to see the movie at the drive-in in the trunk of our car. And I didn’t swim in Lake Ontario for the rest of the summer.
A few years ago, snorkeling in Belize, a hammerhead shark swam about 20 feet away from me. I got out of the water. Fast.
Fear is illogical and deeply engrained. Snakes have been killing humans since Adam bit the apple. And so, they scare us silly. Studies show that even babies or animals who have never seen snakes fear the slithering, legless death-ropes.
But there are only four species of venomous snake in all of Canada and they are so rare, no Canadian has died of a snake bite in more than 40 years.
On the other hand, hundreds of people across Canada die every year because of snowmobile or ATV accidents. And yet nobody screams when they hear the rumble of a Honda Quad.
Beneath the surface
If fear were rational, we’d be more worried about our bacon intake than bioterrorism. We’d be more afraid of COVID than daddy long-legs spiders. We’d be way less scared of thunderstorms than climate change. But fear is not rational. And it doesn’t matter if your dad is sitting at the foot of your bed telling you it’s alright – you’re still gonna wear the hockey helmet to bed.
And yet there’s a bright side to fear.
Because fear is deeply engrained in all of us, and because we have all developed ways to hide our fears, it actually explains a lot of strange human behaviour.
This past week I was involved in a debate on Facebook around a local development. There were two camps: people who wanted the development because they wanted the jobs in the community, and those who were opposed because they didn’t want greenspace to be developed.
Rationally, the pro-development side had a weak argument: there were lots of commercial lands available in the town and it wasn’t necessary to re-zone protected land. On the other hand, it really wasn’t much of a “greenspace,” either – more like a few acres of shrubs and litter. But both sides were passionate, and adamant that they were right.
But when you look beneath the surface of the issue, what you see is fear. Fear of economic downturn in a time of COVID. And fear that this is one more nail in the coffin of our natural world. And while the underlying fear is universal – worry about the future – the expression of that fear is tribal and political.
This helps me to understand something Christ said, that has always seemed flippant to me: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Jesus is not saying “don’t worry, be happy;” he’s saying, “Yes, you’ve got a lot to worry about, but don’t let it define you.” And, significantly, the very next thing he says is “do not judge.”
To put all of this together: what if we were all honest with each other about what we’re really scared of? What if we said to each other: I am worried about the world my kids will inherit? Perhaps suddenly, we could reframe politically divisive topics like “climate change versus the economy” around something we can all agree on: the need to build a better future.
And maybe facing our deepest fears would bring us together, instead of pulling us apart.