In America today we see a symbiotic relationship between fear and guns. The more people are afraid, the more guns are bought. The more guns on the street, the more people are afraid. Just look at Cleveland as an example. Ohio is an open carry state and some are exercising their right to carry fire arms in the street during the Republican convention. The Cleveland police petitioned the Ohio governor to suspend the open carry law in Cleveland for safety reasons. Ironic, isn’t it? According to a University of Tallahassee study, more than half of those who purchased guns did so for self protection, noting that “the…most fearful may arm themselves and then feel…safer because of it.
This raises some important questions such as what is driving the fear and how can we help to reduce it?
What is driving the fear? I believe that fear is a combination of feeling vulnerable and feeling alone. The sense of vulnerability in America is apparent, and something I’ve written on before. As wages stagnate and good paying jobs are replaced by lower paying jobs, people rightly become fearful that their way of life is being taken from them and they have little power to change it.
It doesn’t help that we have politicians and demogogs preying on this fear. Consider these facts relating to the relationship between actual crime and the fear of crime. While violent crime in the United States has plummeted since the early 1990s, the fear of crime continues to rise. Fear mongering works. That’s why desperate politicians use it.
The second side of the equation of fear is a sense of being alone or of alienation. If I can’t rely on my neighbor, or my family or my community or even my government to help me while I see my income and qulity of life eroding – what can I do? Maybe I’ll lash out at those “others” who I believe are taking my job or “those people” who don’t look or act or think like me.
How do we reduce fear? To reduce fear, we must work actively to build community at every level that we can. Anything that you do alone – either alone as an individual or alone as a family – you can do with others and expand your own sense of community. If you run for exercise – find a friend or two and run together. If you are playing Pokemon GO alone – grab a neighbor or two and walk your neighborhood together while playing the game. Join a hobby group, join a church, volunteer at a nonprofit agency, organize a block watch. The options are limitless. But the first step is an internal one: we each need to recognize that building community is a serious endeavor which begins with a commitment at the individual level.
Community renewal isn’t the only way to combat fear, we can also look at a spiritual renewal. And, a good way to begin your spiritual renewal is simply to stop. Sit down in a quiet place. Quiet your mind through music or a mantra and listen for the still small voice of God that the Quakers teach is within each of us and which will guide each of us if we learn to listen. We are told in Psalm 85 that where God dwells, there we will find that “Love and Truth will meet. Justice and Peace will kiss.”
Love, truth, justice and peace all start with listening to the stirrings deep within our soul. But then we must act. The only way to drive out fear is to roll up our sleeves and work for peace, justice and community.
If we have a strong faith, and a strong community, there will be no need for more guns. Justice and Peace will kiss.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.