Tag Archives: fear

In Light Of Recent Events


…by which I mean the US presidential elections and Trump winning, but also Brexit, Tories, and the looming possibility of a National Front president in France…

I wrote a facebook post. It’s aimed towards progressives, the left-wing, you know, “our people”. It’s about how we talk to the ones we think of as Them, as opposed to Us, and how we are harming our own cause.

“So I’ve been thinking, and I’d be grateful if you heard me out.

The Trump presidency has come as a shock to me, but then I was also shocked when the Tories were reelected, and Brexit shocked me, too, so maybe I was asking for it by not changing my expectations of the world. I don’t think I’m alone in surrounding myself – online and offline – with mostly progressive people and causes, because I want my online experience to be fulfilling and not a cause for anger and anxiety. This is good for my mental health, but it feeds into the illusion that most people are progressive, well-educated, well-informed, and inherently good.

And yes, this is an illusion. I’m not going to go into whether people are inherently good or bad – I don’t have time for philosophy right now (some other time, I promise). But in case you, too, have been labouring under the delusion that most people want equal rights for all races, religions, sexual orientations etc., it’s time we faced the truth: we’re a minority. Most people are misinformed, terrified of progress, and easily manipulated by mass media and whichever politician shouts the loudest.

Which means that it is up to us – the progressive minority – to solve this problem. And we’re not going to manage it the way we have been – by shouting at them, accusing them of racism, sexism, homophobia, unfriending them on facebook and trying to silence them the way they’ve tried to silence us. Those tactics won’t change how those people vote.

So here’s what we have to do, and I know you’re all going to hate this as much as I do, but it’s really the only way we can make any sort of change to how *society* thinks on an *individual* level:

We have to engage.

We have to start a discussion, and that means listening instead of just talking at people. We have to let go of the need to be right, to prove them wrong, we need to let go of this Us vs. Them dichotomy – because that’s what the politicians want – and convince Them that they are Us, because they are. We are all citizens, we will all be affected by whoever is in power.

We need to figure out WHY people voted Trump. For real, this time, not by dismissing it as pure stupidity. We need to find out what people are afraid of, and help them understand our point of view without trying to impose it on them. We need to convince them that they might benefit from understanding our point of view, and for that we need to befriend them.

And for that, we need to stop getting angry at other voters.

I know. This is the bit you hate the most, it’s the bit I hate the most, too. It’s not fair. We have the RIGHT to be angry – I’ve shared so many feminist posts about how telling women to “calm down” about equal rights is the equivalent of telling them to “shut up”, and that’s true – and the same goes for any kind of minority, because we are the underdogs and we’ve had to fight for our rights and we still have to, but HEAR ME OUT OK?

I didn’t say you had to stop getting angry. I said you have to stop getting angry at *voters*. Because if you get angry at a voter, they will get defensive, feel legitimized in their beliefs, and withdraw from the conversation. And they will vote Trump. Or the biggest fearmonger. That’s not what we want.

Don’t get me wrong here: getting angry at politicians is still ok. It’s even recommended, because no matter what their beliefs are, what they want is your vote. So save your anger for protests and rallies, and also for companies. Consume differently and let companies know why, because that’s how progress happens on the scale of big businesses and politics. Our anger has power there.

But individuals are different. Don’t get angry with voters. Don’t vilify them. Remember that they’re human, and humans are complex. Engage them in a discussion. Several discussions. Listen, find out what their fears are, what motivates them, do your research so you can present your own point of view, be intellectually honest and be compassionate, because that shit’s contagious.

Now this is the part where I admit that I don’t even think I’m capable of taking my own advice. You all know I have a history of anxiety and depression, and I know that a lot of you have similar mental health issues, or worse. I’m not saying you should all go out and “convert” a bunch of right-wing strangers no matter the cost.

But see that racist uncle you wish you could unfriend, or that guy in class whose sexist jokes make you uncomfortable – talk to them. Engage, listen, empathize, explain, and if you still don’t agree, tell them it’s fine, that your relationship is more important. Maybe try again next time, maybe not. It might not be necessary. The discussion you just had might be the start of a slow chain reaction whereby that person starts seeing progressive arguments in a different light. You can at least be the start of something, even if you don’t see the end result.

Of course, it won’t always be that easy. There are trolls and flamers and people just looking for a fight in all walks of life (including on our side, by the way, and you should call them out because they’re not helping). You might get insulted, unfriended, banned, blocked, threatened, and yeah, all this can be enraging and terrifying, and in that case you need to take care of yourself and unfriend, block, call authorities etc., whatever you need to do.

You might also end up responding to their provocation and getting angry and defensive yourself, and that’s understandable, even if it’s not ideal. If you think it’s worth it, you can go back later, apologize for getting defensive, explain why, and maybe they’ll understand this time.

But don’t you be the one to start a fight. Start a discussion. Check your anger. Listen. Read between the lines. Let’s open peoples’ minds. Even if you don’t change them, you’ll also be opening yours.

Sorry for the long post. Thanks for hearing me out.”


An Atheist’s Guide To Prayer



In case you’re reading this a good while after the incident that inspired today’s post, it is the 15th of July 2016 and last night in Nice, France, a truck full of weapons careened down a walkway full of people gathered to watch the national holiday fireworks, killing 80 of them and injuring more than 100.

I’m tired. So tired. Exhausted. I think you are too, and that’s not a good thing because it means they’re getting to us, which is what they want. Fuckers.

And I know what you’re thinking, seeing the title of this post. No, praying won’t bring those 80 parents, siblings, children, lovers and friends back to life. It won’t help the injured heal from their wounds, either. Note that if you happen to believe the contrary, good for you. But I’m an atheist, and in this post I’m addressing my fellow atheists.

There is something to be said for prayer, and that is that it helps process difficult emotions, such as anger, grief and fear. The rituals surrounding the act of prayer are comforting, and prayer itself brings solace to the mind and provides an opportunity for introspection. I’ve heard it said that religion is the peoples’ teddy bear that we need to grow out of, but I don’t see the harm in needing to be comforted once in a while. We’re not superhuman, and the world is a scary place.

I’ve been thinking about my relationship with religion for a while. I think it started six days after my daughter was born, just after the Bataclan attack in Paris. I looked down at her sleeping face and wondered, what sort of world had I brought a child into? And I felt profoundly guilty and scared. I saw the hashtags #PrayForParis and felt a bit lonely, too. If only I could pray, I thought, and feel like it was making a difference.

Since then, though, I’ve come to the conclusion praying does make a difference. It’s just a very, very subtle difference in the mind of those who pray, and yet it’s important: it’s a form of psychological rebellion against forces that are trying to terrify us into submission. It’s an act of love – you pray for someone – in the face of immense hate and destruction.

So I want in.

The ritual I chose was Wiccan, because that’s the religion I followed for years as a teenager, but any sort of ritual – religious or not – would have done fine, as long as it’s familiar and comforting. I removed a bunch of paperwork, and cleaned the little chest of drawers my mum painted with a pentacle and gave to me for my 17th birthday to use as an altar. I rummaged inside the drawers and found a mirror, a tealight, a broken heart-shaped rose quartz given to me by a lovely family of Americans we’d met years ago, an incense holder and some frankincense, and a tiger-patterned feather I found in a forest once that probably belonged to a pheasant. I placed the candle in the center, the incense vaguely towards the south (I dithered a bit, wondering if incense was more air or fire and then remembered that it didn’t matter), the feather in the east, the rose quartz in the north and the mirror in the west. I lit the candle with a match because it felt more ritualistic than a lighter, and lit the incense with the candle flame. I sat cross-legged in front of it all and clasped my hands together in my lap.

Then I just sat. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply the way I would while meditating, but instead of focussing on some inner light, I thought about terrorism. I imagined there would be orphans – 80 victims, there have to be – and thought, too, about the mothers who had lost their children, which is what I fear the most. I thought about the rage and the grief that would consume them, and I let the sadness wash through me, dwelling on it for a bit. I imagined myself as one of the victims. My control freak of a brain tried to imagine all sorts of ways in which I could have escaped death by being just a bit more vigilant, just a bit quicker than the others, but this time I told it to shut up. None of those people wanted to die last night, any more than I do. I’m no better, no quicker than any of them, and if I’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time I’d have died just like they did, and it wouldn’t have been my fault for not being quick enough. I’d just be unlucky.

As I confronted the reality of death, and my inability to control when and how it comes to me or my family, I expected to feel fear. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d have a panic attack, which is why I was breathing slowly. But instead I just felt glad to be alive. I felt like making the most of being here, with my family and friends. I wanted to enjoy what I had while I had it, and so doing, shout a big Fuck You to the shitstains that are trying to destroy us.

And I wanted to share it with you. If I hadn’t taken the time to do this little ritual, then I’d probably have spent the day feeling crap. It might have ruined my weekend. And sure, that’s nothing compared to all those whose lives have been taken, or ruined by the deaths of their loved ones, but it counts because it’s what they want. They want to ruin our lives, bit by bit, to wear us down, to make us fear one another and lose all hope. Fuck that. Let’s pray. Or at least, let’s each sit down somewhere quiet and take a few minutes to think about how this has affected us, and how we’re going to react to it. Let’s be sad for those who died and who lost, but let’s also be glad it wasn’t us, yet. And then let’s decide not to let them win, at least not in our own minds. It’s a tiny, tiny difference, but it’s a start.

A youtube channel you might be interested in is The School Of Life. They have some very interesting videos on religion, including this one: