Fear

Recently I have had quite a few conversations with people that have involved dealing with fear. It makes sense because there are genuine reasons to be afraid. There is so much that we do not know about the coronavirus spread. With so little testing, we have no way of knowing how many people are infected and simply not showing symptoms. The ones who are identified for testing may have already infected dozens of others. You can’t see a virus with the naked eye. There is a sense that it may be lurking anywhere. I understand the fear that is present in our community.

Fear, however, is a strange thing. When people focus their attention on their fear, they become more afraid. There re members of my congregation that I haven’t seen face-to-face for weeks now, some of them for an entire month or more. A few members of our congregation have chosen self isolation. Complete isolation, of course, is a luxury that not only separates people, but separates classes of people. You can’t shelter in your home if you do not have a home. You can’t continue to pay Instacart to deliver groceries if you don’t have income or savings to use to pay for the service. So those who are isolating in their homes and not going out at all are quite separate from those who do not have that option, and some of them have forgotten about the other people. They are not insensitive or uneducated. Most of the people I know who are self isolating are highly educated. They just have their attention focused on themselves and their own fears and aren’t noticing that the choices they have made are not possible for others.

A time passes, however, it does appear that those people are becoming more and more afraid. NBC has reported that while some businesses have suffered since the outbreak, sales of home security systems have significantly increased. SimpliSafe, a do it yourself home security system has seen sales increase by as much as 86 percent in a single week. There doesn’t seem to be much information about how those home security systems are being used, but it seems reasonable to assume that some of them are being installed in businesses that are closed during the pandemic. People don’t want to have to leave their homes, so they are installing cameras, motion detectors and glass break alarms to keep track of places of business that are closed. Most of the DIY systems are based on cell phone technology and allow for remote monitoring. People can view the systems from home. For some these systems can provide peace of mind. If they are filing anxious, they can check to see that no alarms have been sounded and then relax. For others, however, these systems increase anxiety. Alarm systems are prone to false alarms. An animal walks into a motion detector area outside of a building, a car pulls into the parking lot and the system alerts the operator. There is a reason why we pay a professional monitoring service to keep track of the fire alarm system at our church. They have professional staff who take shifts. No one person has to monitor the system 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But with the DIY systems, a single individual takes on the task, assisted by the technology, of 24/7 monitoring. And, if they are truly sheltered in their home, their only technique to deal with an alarm, false or real, is to call the police.

Police report that false alarms and nuisance calls have increased during the pandemic. Part of this is due to the fact that those who are homeless are spreading out, too. They have access to the news. They have real fears as well. In some cities, law enforcement have been called to disburse gatherings of people out of fear of the virus spreading. So folks wander into neighborhoods where they wouldn’t normally go. They walk into parking lots or seek shelter in a quiet place alongside a building and they show up on the security camera. They may have no intention of causing harm, but once the alarm is sounded someone has to go check things out.

I’ve spent more time talking to fearful people in recent weeks than ever before. Part of the problem for me is that I am not a naturally fearful person. I try to be rational and I’ve developed a set of street smart skills over the years, but I don’t feel unsafe in the work I do or the places I go. It isn’t my first reaction to be suspicious and to think that I’m about to be the victim of a crime. I don’t see strangers s dangerous. Most people pose no threat at all. Some may consider my reactions to be naive, a product of simply having been lucky, and I understand that perspective. Nonetheless, I don’t invest much energy in being afraid or anxious.

I try to be sympathetic to those who are afraid. I don’t dismiss their fears. But I don’t have a natural or automatic skillset when it comes to calming the fears of others. Sometimes I have to bite my tongue to keep from laughing off what seem to me to be irrational fears. Emotions don’t have to pass a test of rationality. They simply are. A person who is afraid isn’t helped by those who say that there is nothing to fear. My main technique in dealing with fearful people is to listen as carefully as possible. I may not be able to calm their fears, but I can listen. They do not need to be alone in their fear.

The Bible is full of warnings about out of control fear. Jesus encourages his followers not to be afraid and not to worry. The long term solution to fear is faith. And I have been called to be a teacher of faith. The rampant fear in our community is a clear sign that I have a lot of work that remains to be done.

So I am not sheltering in place. I am going to the church every day now. In my business, there is simply too much work that needs to be done.

Copyright (c) 2020 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!