Fear has a natural advantage over trust. We are much more likely to give our attention and react to something dangerous than to something beautiful. It is the way we are wired. In fact you are here most probably because your forefathers were quick to fear. When our ancient ancestors walked through jungle paths, they had to make split decisions about whether it was a stick or a deadly snake lying across the path. Those who did not instinctively react on fear were less likely to pass on their genes. And so fear became a natural companion to survival, meaning that those who survived were exceptionally good at fearing.
Yet, even the earliest hunter-gatherer communities also knew that there were many benefits to trust. Trust is not instant, and is not necessary for immediate survival, but it opens up possibilities of relationship… and relationship opens up yet more possibilities. To live, work and play together, to share tasks and ideas, have huge benefits. And it all requires trust.
But trust in these primitive communities faced another big obstacle. Meeting other tribes, often resulted in violence and the extermination of many communities. Fear, once again, became an essential ingredient to the survival of cultures. But trust remained essential for the community to function. This strange combination of forces had to co-exist, and so trust was extended mainly to those within the tribe, and fear (often masked as the courage of a warrior) was directed to the others, the unknown. The long slow process of trust was essential to build culture, enable innovation and make creativity possible. And the force of fear meant these cultures were more likely to survive.
The experiences of thousands of individuals over eons of times, as well as the all the processes involved in forming culture over countless generations, are all summarized in your existence. In this way, in you, the past is present. Consequently the process of fear that made survival possible is hard-wired into your psyche. But so is the trust that made community possible.
Fear is instant and part of your survival instinct. Trust takes time and your immediate survival is probably not dependent on it. You actually have to purposely give your attention to what is beautiful/positive for at least 15 seconds for it to make an impression. Yet it opens up spaces, connections and relationships that would be impossible in an atmosphere of fear. Why survive if there is nothing worth living for?
Can we transcend our fearful origins? Can the future be more than a repetition of our violent past?
The Biblical story of the Hebrew people is a story of a group of refugees, immigrants, outcasts. It’s the story of a long and slow journey to trust. How does one trust God in the midst of suffering and injustice? How does one trust others in the face of abuse?
Jesus takes this story to its ultimate conclusion, when he tells those who wish to follow him to: “Love your enemies.” How is that even possible? It is not, if all you see is their enmity. But this is what Jesus comes to reveal – there is a possibility of beauty and goodness even in your enemy. And once you see that there is more to love than what there is to fear, Jesus’ commandment becomes possible as well.
As I reflected on what we did this year and what is possible for 2018, I remembered a conversation we had on Cape Town airport just before our trip to Canada earlier this year. One of our Mimesis Academy students came and had a coffee with us and proceeded to tell us that the greatest transformation she experienced happened when her perception of evil changed.
Like so many of us who were raised in a Christian community, the belief in demonic forces, especially present in those who believe differently from us, became the underlying fear with which she engaged with others. Often, Christian communities are nothing more than little fearful tribes, who use fear to manipulate unity and justify violence against the other. And violence is not always physical. It’s often the way in which we cut off, exclude and erect borders between ourselves and others.
Well, our friend told us how the course on evil (The symbolism of evil) did so much more than change her thinking… she actually started seeing the value and beauty in those she previously feared! A new world opened up in which the mask of enmity dissolved and the beauty of friendship was revealed!
This is what the message of Jesus does! It was never meant to create yet another fearful tribe who justifies their violence in the name of God. It was always meant to break ‘down every dividing wall of hostility’ (Eph 2:14). It was always meant to be a whole new way of being human – one in which we would transcend the fear from which we came and make love a real and lasting experience. And this love is not naive. It is founded on the sober realization that violence played a significant role in forming human consciousness. The cross however exposes violence, and the resurrected Jesus unveils a new possibility: forgiveness. A new seed was planted in human consciousness and a whole new way of being human could grow from it.
Once a year we ask for your support to continue this work at Alwaysloved ministry – one of inspiring friendship and reducing violence. It’s not always the spectacular, instant kind of headline grabbing news we produce. It is more like the slow consistent work of giving people more reasons to love than to fear. Many of you have supported us through the years and your support continues to make this world a better place – thank you!
So may I ask you to consider giving on a monthly basis or as part of your yearly charitable giving at this link: http://alwaysloved.net/giving
A whole new world in which the mask of enmity dissolves and the beauty of friendship is revealed, continues to unfold!
Andre and Mary-Anne Rabe