No fear & loathing ’round this old Christmas tree
Since when did, “Have a safe Christmas!”, become a seasonal greeting? Did you hear this as a kid? I didn’t. Or if I did, it meant “don’t drink too much”, but today this so-called greeting encompasses the most horrendous threats.
Those threats are ones we have absolutely no way of anticipating and, thus, avoiding – so why ask others to “have” a safe time when there’s no way to control it? I’ve also heard, “Be safe!” -- as if we wouldn’t bother to be cautious had we not been reminded. OK, yes, we’re talking Christmas wishes, nothing profound!
But these vacuous “wishes” are actually more; they are part of a generalized sense of fear that has seeped everywhere in our society. When we were kids, we took off on our bikes, without moms nattering about precautions and deadlines. Today, danger lurks everywhere, constantly, or so we’re told.
Christmas, or Hanukkah, the Solstice, or Kwanzaa, should be a time to forget fears. It’s a holiday especially for kids, and don’t we always want to avoid smothering their lives with a blanket of fear?
This fear problem isn’t modern: those old days may seem cheerier, warmer. That’s what advertising says, but is it true? The nuclear standoff between the US and USSR had us crawling under our desks if a siren wailed. The American novelist William Faulkner put it this way, in 1950: “Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear . . . There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: when will I be blown up?” So, not so new.
Besides fearing nuclear attack, we were instructed to hate and especially fear a new enemy, the Communists -- yesterday’s jihadists and terrorists. The US congress, under the prodding of Joe McCarthy, an early Trump sound-alike, passed the McCarran Act which created a Communist conspiracy, drew up black-lists, and clamped down on immigrants. Sound Trump-familiar?
Even earlier we had hatred – and fear – of “the Huns”, stirred up by government and mainstream media. Immigrants all, we were instructed via a million daily lessons that we should distrust – and fear – immigrants and foreigners. Our continent was then awash in the hate-filled broadcasts of Father Coughlin, the rants of American politicians like Huey Long, and groups like the John Birch Society. No, not so new.
What makes us so gullible? We’re an educated people; we travel and do business with the world. Writer Nelson Algren offered this analysis: “The middle class’s faith in personal comfort as an end in itself is, in essence, a denial of life . . . it cuts us off from the deepest sources of the human spirit.”
So let’s return to this season’s message of peace and mutual respect. To survive and grow, we love others, build peace with others. By rejecting this manipulation, all this fear and suspicion, peace and self-confidence become our gifts to our ourselves.