Stay calm to overcome fear, prejudice

Posted: Sunday, March 30, 2003

Long ago on a hillside overlooking an ancient village stood a giant oak known as "the tree that touches the moon." Under the Moon Tree the guardian saint of the village encountered a demon that was poised to spread a deadly disease among all the people. The saint was unable to stop the demon, but he did make the demon promise he would take the lives of no more than 10 villagers.

Later, as the demon departed from the large community, the appalled saint confronted him under the Moon Tree, saying, "You promised that you would only take 10 of my villagers, but already 225 of my dear ones have died from your disease!"

"I kept my promise," countered the demon. "I only took 10 lives. All the rest died of fear."

Shocked, the saint realized the truth of the demon's words.

Whether it's potential spinoffs from the war with Iraq, a stampede at a nightclub or sporting event, or an act of terrorism, we often find our greatest enemy is an invisible one called fear. Fear can induce quick-spreading panic; it can block good judgment and stifle creativity; and it can slowly but surely eat away at our vitality, our mental clarity and our determination.

If we can learn to exert greater mastery over fear, we can prevent all types of vulnerabilities and difficulties.

As we clearly look fear in the face, it loses its ability to dominate us.

Individually and collectively, we must learn to remain more inwardly calm and level-headed when faced with crises. We must learn not to be unduly cowed by fear. One way to do this is to resolve never to yield our power of individual choice. Remember that we can choose faith over worry, preparation over anxiety, compassion over hatred. We can choose courage over doubt. We can choose love over fear.

At this time of heightened international tensions, in addition to gaining greater mastery over irrational fears, people from all countries and backgrounds must guard against the all-too-prevalent and often subtle snares of narrow-mindedness, prejudice, and intolerance. Regardless of how open-minded you might be, you may find it helpful to review the following reminders:

Confront any unfair judgments you may hold toward others who are different from you. Refuse to hold ill-will, bitterness or hostility toward peoples of other nationalities or religions simply because they hold opposing opinions or choose lifestyles and behaviors different from your own.

As necessary, remind yourself, your family and your friends that, just because one person or a group of people from a certain culture have engaged in terrorist acts, that obviously does not mean that other people from that culture are untrustworthy.

Look for the best in all people. Regardless of what land or culture we come from, we can gradually learn to respect, appreciate and feel compassion for one another. Read books, listen to music or attend public performances by people of other cultures and try your best to see the world from their point of view.

We may discover that we don't necessarily have to see others as right or wrong, but only as different. We can be on the lookout for every little opportunity to build bridges with people of other cultures. Even if, at first, it is only a smile, that is an important step in the journey toward acceptance and appreciation.

Far more than we may realize, sometimes what we see in others -- both their positive traits and their shortcomings -- is a reflection of what we have failed to fully observe in ourselves. In order to accept others, we must accept all aspects of ourselves. In order to forgive others, we must be generously forgiving to ourselves.

In growing to love an ever-widening circle of humanity, we must stretch our affections so we may embrace ourselves and our dear ones with a love that is truly unconditional.

(This article was prepared for use by Cooperative Extension Agents by Sam Quick, Ph.D., Human Development and Family Relations Specialist; University of Kentucky.)

Linda Tannehill is an agent at the Alaska Cooperative Extension Office. She is a home economist and involved in the 4-H/Youth Development programs. The Kenai Peninsula District Extension Office is at 43961 Kalifornsky Beach Road, Suite A, Soldotna, AK. The phone number is 262-5824 or toll-free at (800) 478-5824.

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