The big story last week was Caitlyn Jenner’s appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine. Most of my friends were supportive, but a few weren’t. And then there were the comments on the various news and entertainment sites (I know, I know – never read the comments).
I saw men afraid of have having to acknowledge a woman who made them uncomfortable.
I saw women afraid that attention would be diverted from their very necessary fight for full equality.
I saw people who have spent their whole lives in a culture that affirmed and promoted their values afraid for the loss of their prominence and privilege.
And I saw people who are among the most vulnerable afraid of the reactions of these fearful persons, most of which will be silent but some of which, we know from experience, will be loud and even violent.
I’m not going to discuss the politicians who stoke the flames of fear to gather money and votes, and I’m not going to discuss the “news” media who use fear to gather ratings and advertising dollars. They’re real and they’re a problem, but today I want to talk about something else.
Fear leads to stress, which leads to health problems. Fear leads to tentativeness, which keeps us from enjoying life. George Lucas wrote a lot of crappy dialogue in Star Wars, but he was absolutely right when Yoda said “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
We’re often told the antidote to fear is courage: the commitment to do what must be done even though it’s dangerous and scary and hard. Courage is a virtue, and a virtue we need to cultivate in our lives and in our wider society. But if we are not mindful, our courage can lead us in the wrong direction. It can lead us to attack the symbols of our fear and not its root cause. It can lead us to attack the wrong things and the wrong people.
The antidote to this fear is love.
Love yourself. Love your virtues and the things you do well. Love the way you keep trying with the things you do not so well. Love your beautiful animal body and your brilliant rational mind. Love your magical spirit and your divine soul. Love yourself so deeply you have no need for others to affirm your goodness or agree with your thoughts.
Love your lovers. Love them for the body, mind, spirit, and soul that’s as amazing as your own. Love the way they make the good times better and the bad times easier. Love the way they know your secrets and love you anyway. Love your lovers so deeply you can’t look at anyone else as a potential lover, only as a potential friend.
Love your family and your community. Love the way they supported you when you were too young, too sick, or too upset to support yourself. Love the way they challenge you to give and encourage you to receive. Love how they call you to look outward and be a part of something bigger than yourself. Love your family and your community so deeply that different families with different ways simply don’t concern you.
Love your fellow humans. Love our shared origins and our common blood. Love our beautiful, fascinating diversity of appearance, ideas, and customs. Love our mutual destiny. Love your fellow humans so deeply your first thought on meeting someone different is what a great experience it’s going to be.
These are fearful times, and unlike Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair, there are things and people we have good reason to fear. Religious extremists and religious violence. Climate change and species loss. Increasing inequality and the disappearance of the middle class. Militarized police and the largest prison population in the world. The list is long and growing.
Love alone will not conquer these fears. This requires courage: the commitment to do what must be done even though it’s dangerous and scary and hard. It requires strategy: working intelligently and effectively and not just doing something for the sake of doing something. It requires dedication: staying with the work day after day, month after month, year after year.
But love reminds us why we do these things that are dangerous and scary and hard, and love supports us through the frustration, fatigue, and pain.
Without love, why bother?
I do not know how long these fearful times will last – longer than any of us would prefer, I’m certain. But with love we will not merely survive, we will thrive.