Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Telling Life: Stories of fear

I was all set to write about mentoring or gratitude or stories to fight off the seasonal dark.
I was looking forward to exploring my own process in the hopes that I found something uplifting or useful for you.
I was good to go.

Then Paris happened. And Nigeria. My Facebook feed has been consumed with conflicting posts just as the news is full of headlines in capital letters and politicians tell us what we should do. We are surrounded handwringing and fear and reaction and and and...

We absorb and tell ourselves stories every day. Stories that help us get out of bed and go to work. Stories that remind us of our goals, purpose and relationships. Stories that give us a reason to keep going. The stories we tell are the roadmap for how we live.

Right now I am hearing story after story based in fear. My heart breaks.

I've been thinking about the stories we tell when we are afraid. The stories that we hope will keep us safe by assuring each other that if we only do this, then that will never happen here.

The acts of terrorism we have witnessed in the last few days are just that; acts of terror. People were murdered in an attempt to create division and fear. The people who carried out these attacks believed stories that said the West is evil. Non-Muslims are less than human. Their lives don't matter.

So many of the stories I see in the news and social media make me afraid, not because of the terrorist attacks but because I'm afraid the terrorists are succeeding in their goals.

I am reading horrific statements from people I love, implying the depth of their fear.
Muslims are the problem. They are evil.
Don't admit any refugees because there may be terrorists among them. Why treat them as if they are human and in need if there is any risk?
Send troops and let's kill them all. Their lives don't matter, certainly they matter less if it will keep us safe.

These stories create more division and fear. Fear drives us to tell stories we know are lies, but they offer us comfort. It is easier to blame a faceless mass of people than it is to look for ways to change the narrative entirely. I am not denying the horror. I am not denying the risk and danger. I am suggesting that we have a choice in how we respond and perhaps we should look at the broad nature of the stories we are telling.

Most Muslims are not evil. Most people are not evil. And we all are capable of evil acts.
Most refugees only want safety for themselves and their children. Enough food. A safe place to rest.
Lives matter.

I don't know the answers here. None of us do; if we did these things wouldn't be happening.
I do know it isn't cut and dry, there is complex history here let alone our own animal nature to respond to fear with violence.
I do know some of you will be upset by this blog post and will choose not to read me any more. That's okay.
I do know, and this is the point of this blog post, stories create a deep response in our brains, so the stories we tell influence our actions.

When we tell stories about a generic enemy and the need for retaliation we create one kind of world. If we tell stories that certainly acknowledge the evil that exists but also leave room for compassion and hope, we create another. We don't have to be blind to be compassionate.

Any one of us could be the problem.
Any one of us could be a refugee.
Any one of us could lose our child to war be they a soldier or a victim.

Evil is in the way the story is told.
Humanity is created when we listen to each other's stories.
As Brother Blue said over and over, when we listen to each other, we all become brothers.

What would happen if we told different stories? How would that change our lives?

(c)2015 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. Thank you for this Laura, my sinking heart is way more frightened of the fear mongering and panic that is being created world wide, than of the terrorists. Their evil intent causes mayhem within the circle of their reach But the propaganda of fear becomes insidious and as history has shown in each case it has only widened and broadened the reach of evil to deep within the heart of humans everywhere.

    1. Thank you, Sharon. It's good to know I'm not alone in these thoughts and feelings.

  2. Laura - your post made me reflect on what Brené Brown was talking about in the fifth chapter of "Rising Strong" - how "In the absence of data, we will always make up stories." She encourages us to capture that story unedited. But then, rather than publish it and subject others to our uninformed narrative, she says that we should be curious about it, asking questions like:

    1) What more do I need to learn and understand about the situation?

    2) What more do I need to learn and understand about the other people in the story?

    3) What more do I need to learn and understand about myself?

    I think these are wise words, and a wise course - even as they apply to other people's stories.

    I agree with you about the negative effects of many of the snap judgments arising from these horrific acts. I wonder what more we need to learn about [ the situation | the people | ourselves ] before we're adequately prepared to respond thoughtfully?


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