Fear, Part Two: The Isms

“Everyone is a good example of… something.”

 (Dr. Robert O. Burdette)
Fear Makes Us Fragile Last week we looked at the challenge of fear with in-the-moment decisions. When we carry fear and fearful thoughts about the world around us over time, it can be a little trickier to even notice that we are responding from fear.

Whole institutions and organizations rise up out of fear, all dressed in pseudo-rationale. We are told, “Our communities are in threat! Our country is in threat! Our freedoms are in threat! Our children are in threat! Our elections are in threat! Threat! Threat! Threat!”

Indeed, there are genuine threats around us. However, as mentioned too many times to count in this space, our very best asset in true threat is a calm body and an engaged neocortex. Whatever that threat is, it is incredibly unlikely to do its worst in the < 5 minutes it takes to use your techniques. In this moment, you are safe. You have time to consider the human impact of your assumptions. You have time to fact check. You have time to consider. You have time to make a good plan.

Fear-Ism Racism, sexism, ableism, genderism, classism… The Isms are not the real problem. Each of these Isms shares the common root of fear.

Have you ever read, listened or watched someone attempt to intellectually talk someone out of an Ism? It’s similar to watching a dog chase its tail. The dog whips up all kinds of energy, but either never catches its tail, or catches it, bites down hard… and wishes it hadn’t. In the meantime, nothing substantially changes for anyone but the dog.

It doesn’t matter how logical, poignant or accurate the argument is. Isms aren’t rooted in logic; They are rooted in fear. The antidote to the fear underneath Isms is exposure through positive human to human connection. Remember how I said last week that all human healing happens in the context of relationship?

Emotional Courage When people manage to shift from being racist, to being aware of their prejudices, to being antiracist, it is an outgrowth of a relationship: Someone’s children-in-law are of a different ethnicity and then the person’s grandbabies are of obvious mixed ethnicity. The things that person had once believed about people of that ethnicity stop making sense as their circle expands as they share their lives with more and more people who are different from themselves.

The same is true when it comes to challenging our assumptions about gender identification or sexual preference. Each time I’ve seen someone grow out of these kinds of ingrained assumptions, it’s been because someone the person knows or loves does not fit into the person’s predetermined People Boxes.

It’s so easy to let our fears of something or someone we don’t understand push us to think of human beings and human experiences in over-simplified terms, making categorical statements about “them,” “those people,” over —---> there. We create as much distance as possible between ourselves and what we fear. It no longer makes sense to hold onto “othering” beliefs once actual faces pop up in our minds when we start talking or thinking about our hypothetical, abstract, limited People Boxes. “Those people over there” suddenly have names, stories, loves, hurts. Love melts fear.

Making the Effort I have heard many people in my generation and older get frustrated with being challenged on using the wrong pronouns for someone. I’ve heard quite a few people say “It’s just too hard! This is the way things always were and now all the sudden everything has changed, and I am a horrible person for getting it wrong. I give up!”

It is

hard; But not nearly as hard as being functionally erased as a human being when someone insists on using terms that refuse to acknowledge you.

People also get upset about using “they” and “them” as neutral pronouns. Many of us still have second grade teachers who scream in our heads that these pronouns are plural.

There are many languages, (including the ancient Greek that was used in the original manuscripts for the Christian Bible,) that include masculine, feminine and neutral pronouns. Unfortunately, English isn’t one of them.

People have tried and failed for countless years to agree on some new pronouns that do not assume a gender. “They” and “them” have gotten the most consensus. As thoughtful, respectful, loving, kind people, we need to ask and answer which scares us more: Expanding our understanding of the human experience? Or the Grammar Teachers in our heads?

I chose to love people more than grammar.

Failing Forward I honestly had no idea just how ableist my default thinking is. My orientation is quite visual. I think in pictures and appreciate how much is conveyed in images. I very often post visually oriented posts on social media. I didn’t think twice about it… Until I reconnected with a friend from undergrad in a group of alums, who is blind. I’m grateful that technology includes text embedded in images to describe them, but when I create my own content (as I often do,) I still catch myself forgetting to either embed the description or type it out.

I take both my sightedness and my visual mind for granted. I don’t want to be hurtful, or to further marginalize marginalized people. And yet, unlearning my automatic assumptions is hard. I mess up a lot. I had to shake my head at myself the day I posted a description of something only to have my visually impaired friend respond simply, “BLUE.”

Gah!! I did it again! “Blue” has no meaning for him.

I choose to keep stretching. Love, respect, dignity, and connection more important to me than my wish for things to cater to my comfort. Love melts our assumptions. Respect turns our two-dimensional frames of reference for humans and human experiences into broken twigs on the ground.

Love Gifts As challenging as it can be to face down our Ism-ic thinking, doing so brings peace, growth, connection, and congruence. It’s so much richer and more fulfilling than clinging to fear and all of its worn-out prejudices. Choosing to love and respect our fellow humans, especially when they confound our assumptions, frees us from the invisible bondage of fear.

I choose freedom. I hope you will too.


Want some help working through the Isms you find in your thinking in a non-judgmental context? Contact Tiffany today. Emotionally generous lives serve us all so much better.