Giv­ing in to fears can draw us to­ward chaos

The Southern Berks News - - OPINION - John C. Mor­gan Colum­nist John C. Mor­gan is a writer and teacher of phi­los­o­phy and ethics in Al­bright Col­lege’s ac­cel­er­ated de­gree pro­gram. He can be reached at dr­johnc­mor­gan@ya­

“The only thing we have to fear is fear it­self — name­less, un­rea­son­ing, un­jus­ti­fied ter­ror which par­a­lyzes needed ef­forts to con­vert re­treat into ad­vance …”

The words are those of Pres­i­dent Franklin De­lano Roo­sevelt in his 1932 in­au­gu­ral ad­dress, and they are as true to­day as they were then, years be­fore the Sec­ond World War, in times as per­ilous as ours to­day. I some­times won­der what Roo­sevelt might have said if he knew what lay ahead, the march of Nazism across the Euro­pean con­ti­nent, the deaths of mil­lions in their con­cen­tra­tion camps, and even­tu­ally the en­try of Amer­ica into the con­flict.

Roo­sevelt did not know what was go­ing to hap­pen and that is pre­cisely why fear was “name­less, un­rea­son­ing, un­jus­ti­fied ter­ror which par­a­lyzes needed ef­forts to con­vert re­treat into ad­vance.” And, I be­lieve, is the same re­al­ity which faces us to­day, fear­ing the un­known we cling to fake news from many sources, lead­ers who re­act emo­tion­ally rather than ra­tio­nally, ter­ror which tells us to ex­pect the worst with­out deal­ing creatively with the present.

There is a great deal to scare us th­ese days if we fo­cus only on fear of the un­known. We do not know what will hap­pen when two coun­tries yell threats at one an­other, or when one coun­try seeks to in­flu­ence the elec­tions of oth­ers, or when the gulf be­tween the wealthy and the poor in­creases across the world. We be­come par­a­lyzed, think­ing prob­lems so vast no one can solve them. It doesn’t help when we join the cho­rus of naysay­ers who want to tear down our con­sti­tu­tion, de­grade our in­sti­tu­tions, and tell us they are our only hope.

Fear­ing the un­known, we re­treat into our sup­pos­edly safe zones, think­ing noth­ing can hap­pen to us if we sim­ply ac­cept the ways things are. I of­ten re­mem­ber the words Bobby and John Kennedy used in speeches but from Ge­orge Bernard Shaw: “You see things, and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were, and I say. ‘Why not?’”

The un­known is not de­ter­mined in ad­vance. It is shaped by what we do to­day. There is not some force of his­tory or nature that is chis­eled in stone, never to be changed. What fear the un­known but the un­known is not here. We are in­ca­pac­i­tated by fear it­self, and it is of­ten sown by those who wish to keep us in the con­trol. They feed off fear to stay in power.

If the un­known had shaped early Amer­i­can his­tory, driv­ing peo­ple to ac­cept their fears, there would have been no Amer­i­can repub­lic.

And there may be no vi­brant repub­lic if we give into our fears and turn over our power to change the fu­ture to those who would change it to ben­e­fit them­selves.

What kind of a coun­try might re­sult if we say no to the naysay­ers and yes to those who paint a dif­fer­ent vi­sion of who we might be­come, a na­tion where peo­ple are judged on the con­tent of their char­ac­ter and not the color of their skin, where ev­ery per­son has an op­por­tu­nity to ful­fill a dream, where we seek to sow peace not war in the world, where our lead­ers rep­re­sent the best of our creed, that ev­ery per­son has the right to” life, lib­erty and the pur­suit of hap­pi­ness?”

We are ei­ther go­ing to be in­spired by a dream or drawn into chaos by fear. Which path we take will shape who we be­come. The choice is ours.

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