I had to take several economics courses in college for my major. I actually enjoyed macro-economics, the study of economic system philosophies and trends over time. I wrote a lot of papers on different economists who each believed they had the answer to failing economies, and discussed economic policy differences in group class projects. I could do theory all day, but when it came time to tackle the practicality of micro-economics, I failed miserably. I believe I passed that semester with a C-, or maybe even a D. The frustrating part was that I worked really, really hard in that class. I spent hours in the library running through modules and practice tests, trying to wrap my head around something I just couldn’t seem to understand. I sought out the professor during office hours, tutoring, peer help, and nothing seemed to stick. Numbers have never been “my thing”, but I thought I could at least handle lemons and plums and – wait, why are we talking about fruit in this class?
What I have come to learn in business and in personal matters is that there are economic systems in place that have nothing to do with money. For example, the advertising and marketing industry thrives on an economy of shame. The statement “You are not ____________ enough” sells billions of dollars in clothes, shoes, weight loss products, jewelry, accessories, automobiles, plastic surgery, and stuff I have never even heard of before. Make people believe they need something to complete who they are as a person, and it will create a demand, which will drive supply, which will bring in the big bucks. It doesn’t even have to work! If you constantly tell people that they are overweight, then tell them that being overweight is unattractive, then offer a solution such as apple cider vinegar or garcinia cambogia, then spin it around Instagram with a clever hashtag, millions of bottles will be sold before anyone realizes that this product does nothing. (I may or may not have fallen for that one…)
I have tossed and turned in bed for two weeks straight now, wrestling with the anger, sadness, and confusion that seem to have moved in somewhere in my gut and just won’t take a vacation. I have been reading like crazy, trying to understand those who use fear as a form a currency. I talk to a lot of twenty-somethings who, I now realize, have been raised in fear. For those born in the mid to late 90s, they were told be afraid to check the mail (anthrax), afraid of terrorists (9/11), afraid of Islam (following 9/11), afraid of Afghanistan/Iraq/Iran, afraid of school shootings, afraid of movie theater shootings, afraid of bombings, afraid of politicians, afraid of the news, afraid of fake news, afraid of police, afraid to be black, afraid to be white, afraid to be conservative, afraid to be liberal, afraid to be gay, afraid to be straight, and to be afraid to gather in any public place for fear of being shot for no reason at all.
It’s one thing to take advantage of people’s financial currency, but what happens when someone manipulates emotional currency? Fear is amorphous. It can’t be generally defined or contained. Each person experiences fear of different things in different ways. Fear is, however, powerful, and when used against people it is incredibly dangerous.
I believe the opposite of fear is love. Loves includes, embraces, invites, and heals. Fear sets apart, shuts down, and can evoke an animalistic response from even the most emotionally intelligent man or woman. Some fear is good. If a large, venomous snake is staring me in the face, I SHOULD be afraid! But many people I talk to are afraid of the “what if’s”, the “maybe’s”, and the “I don’t know’s”. One of my favorite poets, Shel Silverstein, sums it up eerily and beautifully in his poem, Fear:
Was scared of drowning,
So he never would swim
Or get into a boat
Or take a bath
Or cross a moat.
He just sat day and night
With his door locked tight
And the windows nailed down,
Shaking with fear
That a wave might appear,
And cried so many tears
That they filled up the room
And he drowned.
This economy of fear runs the risk of becoming so crippling, that we become imprisoned by our fear of fear itself. Whether it is out of evil or just ignorance, people have figured out how to use fear to rob us of the freedom to experience life fully. It is your choice and mine to decide what to do with our fear. Do I let fear keep me from going to concerts, sporting events, movies, or from leaving my house at all? Do I let fear control my life just as Barnabus Browning did? Or do I push through to fear and continue to live in a way that allows me to thrive, as opposed to just surviving?
These are the questions that have been keeping me up at night. And I have to admit, I am really, really tired. But I believe they are important questions – questions that affect our relationships, our children (born or unborn), and every detail of life.
I guess the conclusion I have reached, for now, is that I get to choose whether or not I let others control me with the currency of fear. And today, I say “no” to that.