Thursday, October 17, 2013

Phobias here there and everywhere (weapons)

I have four little girls, all quite young, and they're all afraid of spiders. In fact, they seem to be afraid of anything with more legs than the fluffy, sometimes very large, dogs and cats in the neighborhood that they're always running up to and begging passers-by to pet. But for whatever reason, where the littlest of critters are concerned, my girls seem to recoil with fear, as sometimes I am kept from getting to bed because they're still awake and sobbing,"there's a spider in my room." Get me a shoe girls, or better yet, get your own shoe," I sometimes have been known to say from my soft and weary pillow.

But sometimes I tell my kids this story of when I was a little girl and I was also paralyzingly afraid of spiders, until that day when I was looking through some cardboard boxes in the old farmhouse where I was raised in rural Nova Scotia. I must have felt something strange when I stopped what I was doing and looked down to realize that a very large spider with very long legs had landed on my very bare foot."What did you do Mom," they then ask, their eyes big with anticipation, knowing the story. I then open my eyes big and pause dramatically, and then lean towards them as they get excited, "well I jumped and I screamed and I shrieked and I ran, and you know what?" I realized sometime after that that I wasn't afraid of spiders anymore.

I'd be lying if I said that I've never experienced anxiety about the sorts of things I'm writing about these days. Much like the neurotic, we politically incorrects often know we're not P.C. I'd also be lying if I said I've never experienced social anxiety in approaching or befriending people who I know hold very different views than myself. But I think it gets easier, dare I say. And you know what else, as someone from a rural background myself, I think we should have more compassion for people who may not be in a position to meet people who hold different views than themselves. I say that knowing, that's where some of the political divide is, between rural and urban, between parts of the world that are more open, and parts of the world that are unaccustomed to technology, media, development, etc.

Sometimes it is a phobia, a fear of the unknown, a fear of the other that drives people's behavior, but I'm inclined to think that often it is also that people have a different set of reference points, a different holy book, a different culture, a different language, political system, history, etc. What bothers me is when I hear the term "phobia" thrown around as a weapon, or "anti," and especially the word "hate" thrown around as a psychological tactic used to intimidate and silence people who are well-different. Ironically, it appears that when people fail to really engage those who hold different views, they aren't acting in a spirit of openness themselves. It becomes about power, doesn't it? They aren't trying to understand the other person's reference points, the things that are dear to them. Ironically, it often appears that they are acting from fear or judgement themselves, as they tell others not to judge.

I'm not saying that people don't sometimes have a right to be frustrated, or have legitimate concerns. Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not telling anyone what to think here. I'm just asking for the right to respectfully disagree, without being labelled and harassed. What I am suggesting is that rather than throwing around words like "hate" and "anti" and "phobia," that we truly begin to understand where different groups of people are coming from as a means to more effective dialogue. Maybe, just maybe, both sides have a point, and maybe we can learn something from each other's differences, as we begin to move forward.

Thanks for listening,

M.A. Harvey

Jars of clay: Weapons

Image: Yip, that's him!

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