Listening to the Fear

My Happy Birthday to Mr. Rogers will run on Friday this week. This morning, the day after Super Tuesday, I feel compelled to post this one instead.


Thanks to
Thanks to


Fear is running rampant in our country today. 
I hearI’m afraid” all around me; I hear it on social media and street corners; I hear it from podiums and daises on both “sides of the aisle.”  That’s troubling, of course.

I hear “I’m angry,” too.  But the psychotherapist in me has seen too often how anger can be a cover for the fear that is so socially unacceptable, certainly among men. In these cases, you go just a bit deeper and the anger that’s on the surface gives way quickly to the fear that lies beneath.


More troubling to me are the “you” centered defenses, grounded in personal attacks.  “You, get out.” “You are to blame.” “You are ….” (fill in the blank with some gratuitous ad hominem). Sometimes it’s “He is….” or a “They are …” but in every case it’s anything but first person singular.

Bullies never respond to “you statements,” whether it’s on the playground (ask any assistant principal) or on the campaign trail . Narcissists too. And the candidate “whose name cannot be spoken” is surely both. Certifiably. Read the DSM 5.

What holds my interest more, are the people — the voters — who resonate with these messages that play to their fear. Those are the people, I believe, we must listen to for their fear is just as painful as the fear you and I experience. Fear is fear; and it hurts.

We may couch our fear in different words. We may cover it over with the buzz that anger can bring. But appreciate that both sides believe they are “right.” Both sides feel justified in their stance. Both sides feel “superior.” And shouting at each other is not working.
If we can stop shouting, take a breath, and listen to those with whom we disagree, perhaps we will also be modeling the behavior we cherish. It’s hard. And it’s a little scary. I know.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”


For me, what that means is that if I want to be heard, I need first to hear others.

If I want to be respected for my views, I need first to show respect for the views of others, however distasteful.  Respect is only that; it is not agreement.

If I want to be treated with compassion, I need to treat others with compassion.

If I want to live in a world of peace, I must live my life in a peaceable fashion.

I must OWN my part in the healing that we need. If want the shouting to stop, I must stop shouting.


“Be the change you want to see in the world,” Mahatma Gandhi said.  He never said it would be easy.


How about you? What is the change you want to see in the world today? 


My thanks to Joan Z Rough, whose recent blog post stimulated me to write this one.

19 Responses

  1. Marianne STamm
    | Reply

    Showing respect for the other viewpoint, however distasteful, is very rare. I get so upset when I am at a lecture where only the one viewpoint (usually conservative in my case) is brought forth, and no hint of why the other side might be doing what they are doing or saying. In discussions with friends or others I often try to bring in the other viewpoint, or why there might be another viewpoint. Why the refugees are pouring into our country; we would too if we were them… too often I feel I am not heard. Not that it stops me from talking.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hello Marianne, and welcome. Yes, I know what you mean. It is so much more comfortable to be surrounded by people who are just like us. “Birds of a feather” and all. I believe it takes courage to be willing to be different, to stand out from the crowd. And exhausting. We all need our own tribe to relax in, don’t we. I thank you for joining us this morning and starting off the conversation.

  2. Merril Smith
    | Reply

    I agree with everything you say here, Janet. There is a climate of fear and hate here, and elsewhere in the world. I agree that we need to attempt to listen and respect all viewpoints. At the same time, people with other viewpoints have to be willing to do the same. This has not been the case at the man with the hair’s rallies.

    I love the Ghandi quote. I was watching an episode of the TV series, “Mercy Street” last night. A white nurse at the Civil War army hospital offered help (with a necklace her dead husband had given to her) to a young black woman. When the woman said you don’t have to do this, the nurse replied, “No real good comes out of what we have to do. It comes out of doing what’s right.”

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Merril, Good morning. I love that your quote too, “It comes out of doing what’s right.” The trouble with waiting for the other to go first is, well, you can imagine. I have a funny story to tell about that scenario….

  3. Ian Mathie
    | Reply

    Who was that wise soul who said it was Fear we should be afraid of because it is the most corrosive, yet subtle danger for it blinds us to the realities of situations? Whoever it was had a very good point, which is neatly confirmed by this blog post.

    The expressions we use to voice our fears are often oblique, for we have an instinctive distaste for addressing many issues directly, particularly those that have touched a raw nerve within our psyche. This is one of the reasons our fear is often expressed as anger. We are also all susceptible to some degree to the mass hysteria that arises when a powerful figure goes on the campaign trail. We find ourselves shouting in half serious support of things we don’t actually believe in, but which scratch the itch that makes the present situation uncomfortable for us. This is how so many people find themselves voting for a man they dislike. In the case of the Hispanic vote in Florida, it won Trump the election even though most of the Hispanic population in that state appear to detest his attitudes and politics. The same thing happened with the rise of National Socialism in Germany in the 1930s. People got swept along on the tide, urged to conform by a few fanatics, and unable to resist until it was too late. Have we learned from that? I doubt it, it still happens today. It;s what fueled the Iranian revolution, the Arab Spring, the war in Ukraine, and even the Syrian conflict.

    While people are afraid of where this behaviour may lead, they are still swept up in the moment, participants in the making of history, because they are equally fearful of the alternative. We see this in the US elections going on at the moment to select Presidential candidates; nobody seems really to like either of the front runners, yet they still vote for them.

    Politics is one of the biggest sources of Fear. We have entered an age when politics has become more dramatic, more brutal, and more exhibitionist.This is partly because media coverage is so immediate and all pervasive, we cannot avoid hearing about what is going on. In addition there are new global threats in the world that seem overpowering and need to be countered with strength, not soft diplomatic words, for the source of that threat recognises nothing else. Clearly I’m thinking of ISIL here, a creed that recognises nothing but power and absolute conformity. It has nothing to do with Islam, that is merely a convenient vehicle which lends itself to this sort of campaign and, because some of its original tenets support the idea of ‘might is right’, is easily corruptible to accommodate the new doctrine. It does so in a way that creates fears which mask the real danger, thereby giving the cult a significant advantage.

    In the face of fear we need to stand back and take a cold, clear look at what;s going on. Establish the real threat, and the motivation behind it. We will then be much better equipped to deal with the threat and the reality of how it may affect us. At the same time, we must consider that occasionally some threats can only be overcome by overwhelming force.

    And while we’re at it we need to take a long, cold, clear look at our own attitudes, actions and beliefs and consider how these are adding fuel to perceived threats. Then perhaps we may make better choices when deciding how to deal with our fears.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Oh yes, Ian. You hit on a really important piece of the “fear” issue: we do indeed need to assess whether it really is a big black bear bearing down on us and we’d better run or an expectation of something quite different.

      There’s an adage I’ve come to rely on often, “Keep the focus on yourself.” I think that’s at the core of what I’m talking about here. It’s so easy to focus on “those crazy other folks,” or however we want to characterize our “other,” when the real power we have comes when we pay better attention to what is going on inside our own skin. And, as for that quote, Jonathan Steele said in an article in The Guardian nine years ago, “fear is the most corrosive agent of pain, and that is gone.” He was writing about the power of the Klu Klux Klan in the American south. He also said, “Fear is nine parts imagination and one part memory.” Is that what you were thinking of?

      Which reminds me of another adage, “This too shall pass.”

    • Sharon Lippincott
      | Reply

      Ian, I appreciate your well reasoned remarks as much as Janet’s post that sparked them. I believe Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the source of the line “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

      IMO, FEAR is the opposite of LOVE. Hate is usually thought of in this regard, but fear is the root case of hate. Perhaps the key question is, “How do we generate enough love to neutralize all the fear?”

      • Janet Givens
        | Reply

        Hello Sharon, and thanks for joining us today. It’s such an important topic and you’ve added to it.

  4. Frank
    | Reply

    Janet, this blog paired nicely with a NY Times article this a.m. about free trade and angry voters. I quoted, referenced, and linked your blog in my comment.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Thanks, Frank. I love seeing my name in the same sentence with the New York Times. I’m out of my ten stories a month, so I missed the story. Thanks for the link.

  5. Nancy McBride
    | Reply

    Inside my Skin
    I recently visited a gentleman (former high school classmate) who’s first statement when I arrived was, “I know you won’t agree with me, but you need to know why he-who-shall-not-be named will be President.” (Well, glad to see you, too!)
    I chose to listen. Never hurts, and one might learn something.
    Resultant, I tried to figure out why I felt ruffled, and realized it wasn’t so much his opinion that we needed a businessman, etc., it was that he had told me what to think, and was not being civil or asking me to consider options. He was standing over me, and punching his finger at me to make points. I stayed calm, but felt intimidated.
    I did not respond.
    Later, I said, “I’ve been thinking about what you’ve told me. I can see why certain points would appeal to you. I’ve realized that its not only the issues that concern me but the bullying behaviors that are consistently abrasive, fear-mongering, and do not reflect my basic values of respect and concern for others.” (There’s more, but this is not the place.)
    He poo-pooed my feelings, and told me I’d see. He said this candidate was just trying to stir folks up. He wasn’t really like that.

    I smiled, now getting it. He, my friend, was mirroring bully techniques with me and didn’t even realize it. He wonders why no one visits him, why his wife left him, and why his kids don’t communicate. He doesn’t ask, he tells.

    Sad is the word I use, not fear or anger.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      There’s a reason we’ve become friends, Nancy. And I do believe it has to do with your ability/skill at taking the high road, not getting hooked in.

      Thanks for joining us today.

  6. Joan Z. Rough
    | Reply


    Wonderful post and I’m happy that I helped you get inspired to write it. And I’m happy you’ve taken what I had to say yesterday further.

    I took a walk this morning, chatted with one of my favorite neighbors who is in his eighties, and then spent 2 hours working in my garden. My fear is still there but after my chat and being out in the sunshine, I feel much more hopeful than I did yesterday. I LOVE that sunshine, robins, daffodils, forsythia, and a wonderful person whom I admire can help to change my outlook is fantastic.

    And thank you for extending the conversation I started yesterday.

    xo, Joan

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      It sounds very peaceful. Thanks for dropping by.

  7. Shirley Hershey Showalter
    | Reply

    Janet, you have identified a truth about fear and anger that I too have observed and believe to be actively influencing the bizarre behaviors of portions of the electorate this season. Of course, the last thing an angry person wants to hear is that he or she is really afraid!

    Today I felt less fearful (in this case fear of fearful people yielding to a despot) myself. I believe that most people see through the bluster, lying, denials, bullying, and that good sense will eventually win. I pray that I will not add to the fear but remember to trust. In democracy’s capacity for self correction. But ultimately in God’s love greater than all political parties and nations.

  8. Janet Givens
    | Reply

    Hi Shirley,
    Thanks for adding your voice, always one of compassion and insight. I trust you are also correct.

  9. Dawn
    | Reply

    I had to post something similar to what you’re saying on my FB page because people were getting out of control. This is what I wrote: “Who really wants change? I have previous stated that I only post things that make me happy. But with all the negativity flying around here lately, I feel like I have to say something. When you post your beliefs in a way that bashes another person’s beliefs, labels them in a bad way, or calls them names because they believe differently than you, I have to wonder about your real motives. Do you really want change or do you just want to see who else is on your side so you can all get together and validate your negative feelings? Because I’d think that if you wanted to make change, you’d find a way to express your beliefs without alienating the very people you’d like to change. After all, those same negative techniques are not likely to work on you, right? And if you can’t say anything good about your own beliefs without ridiculing or badmouthing the beliefs of others, then it makes me wonder about the validity of your beliefs. If you’re so right, try inciting change through adult discussions rather than through hatred. Post informative articles rather than negative memes. Post facts rather than opinions. And try to be open minded rather than follow your party’s beliefs so fanatically that you forget there are other possible truths out there.”

    It helped some curb their incessant posting of negativity, but not all. I wish everyone could get this. Everyone, feel free to copy, modify, and post something similar to this on your own pages.

  10. Janet Givens
    | Reply

    Hello Dawn, and welcome. I loved how you said, “And if you can’t say anything good about your own beliefs without ridiculing or badmouthing the beliefs of others, then it makes me wonder about the validity of your beliefs.” Good for you.

    I hope you’ll come back. I post each Wednesday morning.

  11. […] are afraid. I still believe that. They want to arm themselves, take Trump at his word, vote for the “Make America Great […]

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