Saturday, September 11, 2010
© 2010, the Institute for Applied Common Sense
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
We recently contacted the Logistician (an Institute Fellow), still on sabbatical in Brazil, just to check up on him. We asked him what he considered to be the most significant difference between Brazil and the United States.
“There is almost a total lack of fear here in Brazil," he said. "The folks will do virtually anything and engage virtually anyone.”
Interestingly, we have been thinking a lot about the concept of fear over the past few months, with all of the yelling and screaming going on about where this country is headed. We’ve come to recognize it as a very powerful and potentially destructive force.
Prior to moving to the East Coast, the Institute was based in Los Angeles, just a few blocks from UCLA. During the late 1980’s, a dramatic shift, in the ethnic make-up of the student body at UCLA, began to take place.
The number of first generation immigrant students, whose education was financed by parents in another part of the world, began to grow. It was not unusual to see them walking down the streets of Westwood wearing facial masks to deal with the air pollution and whatever other airborne “diseases.”
They walked in groups of 4, 5, or 6. On occasion, upon encountering a native-born American, the group members would shift 3 or 4 feet off the sidewalk, and turn their heads 90° as if to avoid being contaminated by the approaching figure.
When we first encountered this, we were puzzled, particularly since many cities in their native countries were far more densely populated, with lots of pushing and shoving and bodies touching. Thus, we wondered about the basis for the reaction.
We also knew plenty of native born American citizens of the same ethnic origin, who did not behave similarly, and who were truly integrated and engaged members of California society.
We entertained the possibility that it was fear of strangers and the unknown, and we became concerned, since a fear of any group of people, concept, or person results in a lack of engagement.
Many are familiar with the Seven Deadly Sins. According to Wikipedia, they constitute “…a classification of the most objectionable vices that has been used since early Christian times to educate and instruct followers concerning (immoral) fallen humanity’s tendency to sin." The final version of the list consists of wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony.
Although we here at the Institute do not claim to be learned theologians, or duly appointed disciples of Jesus, there is an argument to be made that fear, particularly the fear of engagement, should be added as the eighth deadly sin.
(Arguably, if one really has faith in God, follows the dictates of his or her religion, and legitimately considers oneself a child of God, then one should not fear anything or anyone but God.)
Tangentially, a failure to engage stemming from fear, can also lead to a failure to understand, which can lead to anger – one of the more unproductive activities in which one can engage, about which we previously expressed our thoughts.
In the view of the Logistician, there is a pragmatic, socio-technological reason to eliminate fear of others, leading to engagement – a society efficiently and effectively gets the best out of the highest proportion of its people.
The Roman Empire contributed significantly to the development of western civilization, which some consider to be the greatest contributor to humankind thus far. Through its assembly (admittedly by force in many instances) and assimilation of divergent cultures, the cross-cultural benefits were exponential in nature.
When those using a particular type of plow used in Country X, engaged those from Country Y, and then those from Country Z, the resultant plow was better at performing the task of tilling the soil, than any of the previous individual plows.
When the Institute moved to the southeast region of the country, the influences of the traditional Caucasian and African-American cultures were observable and palpable. However, the people in the region almost seemed to be in denial about the rapidly increasing Hispanic and Asian communities.
To constructively deny the existence, through lack of engagement, of a significant segment of your community, is a waste of human resources, and a missed opportunity.
And what does this have to do with Personal Responsibility about which we harp so frequently?
It seems to us that if one considers oneself to be a positive, upstanding, responsible contributor to the community, and a citizen of God’s Universe, (regardless of what Stephen Hawking might say), then part of Personal Responsibility requires us to affirmatively engage those who we do not know, do not understand, and those with whom we have philosophical, cultural, ethnic, social, and other differences.
It just seems like the responsible thing to do….
[Editorial Note: We obviously used some "artistic license" in referring to Henry David Thoreau.]
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