Fear is the thing that helps us get from rock to rock and not be eaten by the scary thing. Fear is hardwired into us and will never not be. But we have a hard time distinguishing between different kinds of fear. The fear of not being accepted, for example. We don’t think that; our body feels it at a DNA level, in the same way as “I’m going to be eaten.” Fight or flight is triggered immediately, and it takes critical thinking to go, “Wait a minute, I’m not about to be eaten right now. I’m being challenged on a perspective or idea that I have. Someone is being critical of my work.”
The mentality of “I have to stand my ground, and I have to not back down”—that’s a fear-fueled idea. Our leader right now, “Individual 1,” is all about that: “I cannot be pushed back off of my perspective—that makes me weak!” He is a master at leaning into fear, exploiting it, whipping it up. And most people aren’t adept at understanding how to deal with that and still move forward.
That December 11 press conference with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer [in the Oval Office]? You saw that attitude on display, but you also saw how not to succumb to it. Individual 1 said to Schumer that “Nancy Pelosi’s having a hard time talking right now.” Pelosi was
like, “You don’t have to talk around me. I’m sitting right here! Do not characterize my strength as something else.” I thought that was very important, because she demonstrated how you can confront an attitude fueled by fear.
But it takes practice. Most people don’t like conflict; it’s fight or flight, and you react in one of two ways. Few people can sit there and deal with it. So we need to invest in diplomacy and crisis management. We should have an empathy class in school, teaching kids how to listen, how to take it in and not just be on your heels about everything.
Actors do this all the time. We’re always thinking, How does someone else feel? How would I feel if I were in that position? We’re forced to do introspective things. Most people are just trying to get from day to day, to get to Friday, to get their check and then go watch something to take their mind off this stuff. Finding the peace to not always be governed by your reflexes takes work and concentration.
I don’t know that I have the answer for how people can do better at that. Getting off social media helps, particularly if you’re thin-skinned! I don’t leave Twitter stressed out and wanting to go punch somebody in the face, because if someone calls me a dickhead, we have a discourse. It’s tai chi: If you don’t attack back, pretty soon [the name-calling] is over, and now you’re talking about whatever started the debate. Then that person has moved from their reflexes back into their brain. (Excerpted from an interview with Anna Menta.)