Fear Itself

litany-of-fear-fixed
I really want to have something comforting to say about Elliot Rodger, about the world, and about people in general. Unfortunately, I’m going to stick with what’s real, as far as I can tell. Before you tell me what to go do with myself for writing such platitudes, I’ll remind you that we are talking about visceral human emotions that are beyond words, even for some of the best writers in the world. I don’t feel like I even live on the same planet as the people who could write about this terror, so I really don’t care how much you think I suck. What I’m hoping is that someone reads this and maybe decides to step back from whatever terror they’ve embraced.

First, the bad news (I’ll keep it short): if you think he was bad, there are far, far worse out there all over the world. Men have cornered the market on that kind of evil, but to be human and to want to control others (which is almost the same thing) is to harm others. Y’all can argue back and forth over who experiences the greater fear (based on whatever sorting category you want), and who experiences the greater pain, who lives with the greater risk, and I’m almost certain you’ll have a sorting criteria that backs your answer (if you don’t, I’m pretty sure you’ll either change your answer, your sorting criteria, or just say “that’s what I believe.”).

Now the ugly (I’ll keep this shorter): most of this is because you can not experience anyone else’s fear as keenly as your own. You just can’t. You can empathize, and how much you try and take other people’s feelings into account is definitely to your credit (unless you start imagining you know what they feel, in which case you’re Scary and Bad, so go away). This means that in this world in which most people are unhappy (or worse) a large percentage of the time, you can’t even comprehend why, and when you’re given a reason, you can’t truly comprehend that either.

Now the good (a good person, that is): About a year after the 9/11 attacks, I met a New Yorker who worked two blocks from the Towers (and definitely knew fear that day). Her main regret, to her a tragedy that eclipsed the attacks themselves, was that we went into Afghanistan, rather than spending all that money and effort on rebuilding the towers, better and stronger than before, to show that we wouldn’t be changed by their image of us or their attack. I haven’t spoken with her since, but I imagine Iraq and the creeping paranoia we live under would make her even sadder. I don’t even know her name, but she’s one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met.

And lastly, a question (with some context): as far as I can tell, your life can best be described as what you build it around. Given that, I don’t care what your gender, race, age, or sexuality might be. I have one question for you: do you want to build a monument to the things that terrify you, and glorify them at the center of your existence, or do you want to build something in spite of them, knowing that you might fail? I’ll tell you what, you will get no lasting reward from anyone either way, and living in fear will not keep you safe. You’ll never get to compare notes with anyone else, and on most days, someone telling you how strong they think you are will probably just puzzle you (if it doesn’t, you’re high on your own self). You will, however, be working to shape yourself rather than willingly be shaped by that which you hate and fear.

tl;dr: the only thing you get to build is you. What will you be?