This month the US military began investigating soldiers in the 343rd Quartermaster Company who refused to make the supply deliveries because they were fearful for their safety.
But they aren’t the only ones concerned about their safety. Here in the US, fear sent thousands to Wal-Mart parking lot lines seeking the safety provided by the preciously perceived flu vaccine.
And from campaign stumps everywhere, candidates are making safety a major election issue. Speeches are promising that your children will be safe from the draft and your aging parents will be safe from the flu.
And as diagrams were posted on the Internet this week showing all the toxic chemicals and pipelines near Waterford, Illinois, both candidates continued to promise that they would make you safer from terrorism.
Perhaps it’s telling that Halloween and the presidential elections fall so close together. Both seem to feed on fear.
Safety makes a nice plank in the politician’s platform. After all, who could be against a safer America? But I have to wonder: “If exercising your freedom to vote is based on your personal safety, is it really a vote cast in freedom?
I’m not saying it’s wrong to be concerned about safety. Abraham Harold Maslow, the psychologist from the early 1900s, and famous for his priority list of human needs, named “safety” as being second only to his grouping of air, food and water. And having that feeling of safety can give us the freedom to pursue the more meaningful things in life.
But is safety something you can legislate or delegate? Is it an external condition that can pass or fail on the second Tuesday in November?
A few weeks ago, I wrote a column urging readers to vote for competence over piety. The column led a few readers to sound a fearful alarm. Some emails expressed fear that one candidate would cause more abortion deaths while other emails fretted that the other candidate might cause more war deaths.
Reactions from both sides seem to rally, even revel, in fear.
As a hospital chaplain, I see people face down fear every day. I see fathers as they are given a terminal diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. I watch fear replace joy as adoptive parents learn that their new baby has previously undetected brain damage. I listen to children articulate the fear of losing their full potential to an illness.
I see this fear; and the ones who face it best seem to depend on three simple things – facts, family and faith.
First, they collect all the facts concerning what they fear – because unknown is usually scarier than the known. Facts are empowering.
Then, they turn to family. “Family” has no finite definition today. Families can be traditional and blood related. But family can also be classmates, shipmates, teammates, or simply just a mate. But those who have family to hold them during times of fear are rewarded with an embrace that cannot be measured.
Finally, from my viewpoint, it’s faith that seems to give people the most comfort. “Faith” also has no finite definition. While my faith is in the Christian Trinity, I’ve seen courageous faith expressed in many modalities. Faith has to do with a reverence for something wholly unlike oneself. It is the realization that something not only exists outside oneself, but that the existence of that presence is something more greatly desired than the presence of self. And that presence, like a shepherd, can guide us guides me through the “valley of the shadow of death” where it becomes possible to “fear no evil.”
As the election draws near, we needn’t focus solely on looking to the politicians to “deliver us from the presence of our enemies.” Freedom from Fear means not being distracted by it. Yes, there are things that go bump in the night. It’s okay to feel some fear because fear helps us survive. But if fear dictates our choices, then we aren’t really free.
My prayer is that we will make our decisions not based on fear but rather, as I’ve seen countless people make difficult decisions, with the help of facts, family and faith.