I’ve never been frightened of the world around me. I grew up on airplanes, alongside scorpions and malaria. I grew up as a member of a minority group in my host country; a speck of White in a Black landscape. I grew up without fear. I knew nothing of hijacking; I had relatively good access to medical supplies and treatment, and I was a privileged and tolerated, if not welcomed, minority.
Protection nurtures Fearlessness.
For years, people around the world have suffered from acts of terrorism. We have seen news reader after news reader report on atrocities until tragedies blur in our psyches and we switch channels, just for a little respite. And yet, I have been Fearless. For the simple fact that I have been hitherto protected – by distance, by geography – from news reporters speaking from my own streets.
Is this Fearlessness? Or callous indifference? Ignorance or Idiocy?
These last few weeks in the UK have brought terror home. The world, the one I live in, no longer feels protected. No longer feels safe. Terror is no longer the exotic suffering of the ‘Other’, but mine, ours.
But we already knew this. Deep down we knew this. Our globe shudders collectively at the actions of a damaged, and damaging, few – just as it dances in celebration of collective victories. But it is true, that either reverberation can feel less poignant when positioned further from its source. We hold minute silences for massacres in our own country, not for those slaughtered elsewhere. We limit our public grief rightly or wrongly, for if every global tragedy was marked in this way, would we ever speak again?
But tonight I grieve. For them all. For the perpetrators of terror are not strangers, an unknown entity on the other side of my door. They are no ‘Other’. They are part of this world too. And I grieve for those who have come to believe that to be worthy, their lives must be vessels of hate. I grieve for their fear of us. I grieve because they are lost. Just as I grieve for those whose lives have been taken in hatred and cruelty. And for those who are left to carry on somehow without them. I grieve because the globe is shuddering.
Where is my fearlessness now? The shudders of far off suffering grow stronger and nearer, and my protections, my geography, no longer hold terror at arm’s length. Terror has come knocking.
Protection nurtures Fearlessness. But protection has been reliant on distance. And terror is coming closer. And the world is a lot more frightening now than I remember it being as a child.
But fear is, after all, a useful emotion. It is an essential survival skill to risk-assess the world around us, and it keeps us alive. Maybe it’s okay to be afraid.
Fear, however, is fire. Fire warms, protects, and offers light and heat and industry to those who have access to it. But, unchecked, it wipes out all life around it, desolating landscapes. Terror is designed to stoke rational fear in to a ravanous wild fire. And this wild fire of fear is what leads people to vandalise mosques after a terror attack.
How can we manage our fear so that it continues to protect, rather than destroy?
- Acknowledge it. Weep. Journal. Talk to your friends and family. The unsaid gains momentum and power. Diffuse it by giving it a language, as well as emotions, by which it may be expressed.
- Keep it proportionate. We don’t need bonfires to light a match. Validation of your fear can lead you to seek out healthy and useful safety advice issued by police, for example. But watching 24/7 news reporting can heighten your adrenaline and your sense of being at the centre of a conflict. If you are at the centre of a conflict you might need that adrenaline. If you aren’t, that adrenaline is going to internalize as anxiety. Turn off the news occasionally and pick up a book.
- Remember to live. Buy food. Eat chocolate. Fill your home with flowers. Do the things you enjoyed doing before terror struck. Remind yourself through sheer repetition that joy can be accessed. That life can still be lived.
- Connect with friends and family. Make the most of the relationships around you. Fill yourself up with healthy, life-enhancing connections. Surround yourself with people who love you. If you don’t have a circle of people in your life that fits this description, chase contact with two or three people you like. Pursue relationship. Remind yourself somehow of the goodness in the people around you. Dance together in the collective victory of connection.
Terror strikes. But we can use the resultant fear to protect, rather than destroy. Therein lies our strength, and ultimately, our victory.
Good thoughts and well-spoken, Dr. Rachel. Excellent piece. Could be a chapter in a book on coping with life in these times. Interesting tie-back and contrast to MK times.
Thank you so much for the feedback, Dan. I’ll consider how it could fit in perhaps with the book I’m currently writing – on TCKs and identity… Thanks again for reading!