The Competing Narratives: Empathy vs. Fear

Giving credit where credit is due: I'm watching Legion lately. If you're into trip, smart science fiction mutant stories, I recommend it highly. In Chapter 4, a character starts things off by explaining the following concept and I found it so truthful and preternatural that I wanted to think on it a bit.

As we are slowly indoctrinated in society, we are told two stories.

The first is that of the scrappy hero thrust into a quest of some sort. The hero is beset by a challenge and is good at heart. The hero goes through tests with honesty, bravery and tenacity. The hero overcomes the obstacles and learns something.

The second is that the world is dangerous and if you go out into the water, you will surely die. If you fail to wear a helmet, you will surely die. If you have unprotected sex, do drugs, or take a camping trip in the woods with a smart virgin, a slut and some comic relief, everyone but the virgin will most certainly die.

The first teaches us empathy. The second teaches us fear. Empathy and Fear. These two narratives compete with each other in our psyches for the rest of our lives. Who we are becomes a result, in part, of which story we embrace.

During the eight years of the Obama administration, a good third of us were inspired by the Story of Empathy. We talked about the possibility of overcoming obstacles. He got rid of the Big Bad of 9/11 and passed Obamacare, which was kind of what we were looking for. The problem was that another third of the country was focused on the Story of Fear. Fear of Obama. Fear of Islamofascists. Fear of GAY. Fear of Women.

This past November, the Story of Fear won the day.

For those of us invested in the Empathy narrative, it was a kick in our crotches. A punch in our faces. "What the fuck are you thinking?" we screamed. In our inability to even process the result of the election, we discarded the Tale of Empathy and started generating our own versions of the Story of Fear.

Fear of the Russians.
Fear of Deportations.
Fear of White Supremacists.
Fear of the Police.
Fear of TRUMP.

If there is a consistent lesson in the many stories of empathy, of the plucky underdog on a quest of self-discovery and overcoming massive obstacles, it is that to surrender to fear is the road to failure.

In Rocky III, Balboa loses his eye of the tiger and only regains it once he overcomes his fear of being beaten by Mr. T.  In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo is frequently terrified by the forces levied against him, yet Samwise reminds him multiple times that fear is the tool of the Great Eye. Christ, even the Lego Movie tells us that succumbing to fear is the absolute WORST thing you can do if you are to succeed.

Christ, listen to Yoda, at least!

There are a host of ways to resist Trump and his cronies but decisions based on reactionary fear will never be the best or most productive ways. Take a breath. See who your obstacles really are

Trump isn't Hitler. Trump is Rick Moranis from Space Balls.

Trump isn't Hitler. Trump is Rick Moranis from Space Balls.

Steve Bannon is Porky from Porky's.

Steve Bannon is Porky from Porky's.

And this is the sum total of Russia. If they were any good at this, they wouldn't have been so easily caught.

And this is the sum total of Russia. If they were any good at this, they wouldn't have been so easily caught.

For myself (and, sure, I'm a straight white male with a useless college degree, so it's easier for me to sound dismissive of fear but stop leveling excuses and stand up, yeah?), I prefer the Story of Empathy and will always fight for that to be the narrative of my sunrise to sunset. Your fear doesn't make you any more effective than your anger. Your determination and grit, your empathy for your fellow travelers and tenacity in the step by step journey to things being better and more just is simply a better story to tell.