“An epidemic of fear” is an article regarding the Ebola epidemic in Africa that pinpoints the problem of fear resulting from over-exposure to our media-laden world. It looks at the question – Is fear catching? The author, Dr. Kate Scannell, feels that it is. She shares her experience of a 90-year old gentleman living in a small mid-western American town. Watching the news constantly had made him terrified of the Ebola epidemic in a far away country that he had never visited. She diagnosed his case as “suffering from overdoses of manic, sensationalized reporting and feverish medical commentary” – which is often misleading and conflicting, she points out. This is an extreme case, but every day alarming images of illness, accidents, violence and helplessness leap into our living rooms from a huge variety of news sources, leaving us anxious, vulnerable and feeling a loss of the safety we all so desire. But those fearful reports we hear are not the only story going on. Within each of us is a still, small voice that reassures. Learning to recognize that fear is contagious is a first step, but having a spiritual perspective helps to nudge us out of seeing fear as personally ours. Then we can hear a different narrative.
One woman I grew to know was a prolific worrier. Each day there was something for Sue to fear, and it was making her sick. Then one day while watching a TV program she had an epiphany! She realized that she was watching herself! The person on the program was speaking the words she often felt about anxiety and insecurity. She told me that normally she would have identified with that person, saying “Oh it is so good to hear someone who feels like I do.” “But this time it was different,” she said. “Suddenly a light went on, and I realized these are not my thoughts. This is what the world is thinking, and I am catching those thoughts and then making them my own.” When she saw that it wasn’t her fear, she could deal with it.
This revelation didn’t come just out of the blue. Because of our conversations about Christian Science, she had been practicing a new way to pray. It helped her understand a God that is wholly Love – a protecting influence to turn to. This was new to her, because she had a rather conflicted view of a God that punished, or taught harsh lessons through painful experiences. Hardly helpful when one is already anxious.
Realizing she could listen to that inner voice of divine Love, established within her a calmer, more secure, centered sense of being. What also helped her was Jesus’ statement, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.” Thinking of Vancouver – though not on a hill – she knew it could be seen for miles out to sea. There’s no hiding the city – it blazes its confidence every night. It can even be seen from space! So why was she allowing her light to be hid – a light that could help dispel that darkness of fear? Every time the fears began, she would realize, “Oh that’s just insecurity. That insecurity does not belong to me.” She just knew it wasn’t hers because she had heard others expressing those anxieties in the same way. Gradually as she discovered her confidence, the fears began to dissipate and she got healthier.
So should we avoid all news? No. I don’t think it’s an option to stick our heads in the sand and say, “Well I never read anything because it’s all bad, and it just makes me worried.” That attitude just isolates us in the anxiety, and we don’t get the practice we need in listening to that inner voice that counters fear with a different narrative. But we do need to recognize that the human mind has a fascination with fear. We know that fear sells. Many kinds of businesses make money from it. Worse still, terrorists rely on spreading their contagious and fearful messages through the media. Each of us can ask the question, “Am I contributing to the fear or countering and healing it?”
One inspiring example of individuals countering fear with confidence was after the 2007 terrorist attacks in London. Both the subway system and a bus were bombed with deadly, terrifying results. No one knew whether or when another attack would occur. But from the debris of that violence sprang a simple idea overnight. Two young people developed a website called wearenotafraid.com. They invited everyone to post their photos with the logo, “We’re not afraid.” The first lines on that website state, “Citizens of the world unite against terror.” And people responded! The site went viral and became so popular that thousands of photos were posted. People from all backgrounds, religions, and cultures posted their wonderful, touching and often funny photos. It united thousands together in a common purpose and changed the atmosphere. Each photo shone it’s light that dispelled fear, and you can still see them HERE. It is our spiritual light – that connection with the divine – that counters fear, and unites us regardless of our race or religion to outshine the darkness of fear. It reveals a different story that reassures us that we are all divinely loved, and that we are NOT afraid!