The Phantom Menace

The Antagonistic Relationship Between Faith and Fear

Do you know what is hard these days? Believing in something. Believing in anything. I occasionally drift back to my time in kindergarten when I learned the Pledge of Allegiance and that George Washington cut down the cherry tree and physically could not tell a lie (which was, given my age, equally impressive to rumors of wooden teeth). I believed in our nation, our leaders, our future, the school principal, and my teachers, and I believed in the integrity behind the entire production. My ‘scratch and sniff’ sticker collection was enviable. I could tie my shoes without help and celebrated my success in learning to draw a symmetrical five-point star without taking the marker off the page.

I yearn for the emotional simplicity of that stage of my life. I often look at my 7-year-old daughter and wonder if or how she could have a similar security or belief system. She can’t because the world is different. Regardless of that reality, she seems to carry strength and resilience that I know I didn’t possess at her age. She has only known the chaos of the pandemic years and the ongoing fallout of the decisions made on that timeline. Nevertheless, she wakes up every morning and is not afraid. The recent socio-economic changes are ‘normal’ in the eyes of a child who does not know or remember how things were otherwise. She has faith in our future, as stunning as it may be to my jaded middle-aged mind.

The antagonistic relationship between faith and fear is a tightrope we will ultimately walk in some chapter of life.

It is difficult for thoughtful people not to recognize risks and negative consequences. We discover risk assessment at some of the earliest stages in our life development, commonly through physical discomfort. A child who receives a ‘skinned knee’ will generally be more judicious the next time the same scenario is encountered. Eventually, we learn about emotional, even financial ‘skinned knees.’ A seed of fear is planted after the event of any such physical, financial, or emotional ‘trauma’ throughout our lives.  Those seeds of fear, if left unpruned, may grow into a jungle that can paralyze decision-making in adulthood.

As a teenager, my mother repeatedly told me to “lighten up.” In response, I would remind her that I neither see the glass as ‘half full’ nor ‘half empty’ but as a quantifiable number of fluid ounces — neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but a realist. With some more life experience, I discovered philosophical realism comes with risks. When perceived in its recklessly honest and transparent state, the world’s reality contributes to a profile of fear.

Individuals all have different reactions to fear. Regardless of the origin or validity, the commonality of people consumed by fear is a downward spiral of negative thoughts and actions. Being true to my Gen X roots, I was pumped up when the Star Wars prequel trilogy was announced. The excitement that led to the release of The Phantom Menace was palpable. I remember sitting in the movie theater when Qui-Gon Jinn presented the young Anakin Skywalker to the Jedi Council. Yoda’s response was so powerful that it touched my mind and heart at a time in my life when my faith was at a historic low.

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
Jedi Master Yoda

In the chronology of my life, I had received many a ‘skinned knee’ by the time The Phantom Menace was released. My innate tendencies towards ‘realism’ had germinated and procured a forest of harbored fears. I was an impetuous young man, backed by academic achievement and what I perceived to be worldly knowledge. 25 years later, I know this identity was a façade, cloaking the doubts, regrets, and anxieties I had collected. The discovery of light often comes after knowledge of its opposite.

If we break down Master Yoda’s statement — the common initial response to fear in the animal kingdom is a choice between ‘fight, flight, or flop.’ Regardless of the choice — anger enters the chat as fear’s recipient reflects on the situation and analyzes their doubts and decisions. Anger distills into resentment, stereotyping, judgment, and ultimately hatred. A person consumed by hate will begin to act in hatred towards others, compounding the hate upon itself indefinitely. Master Yoda also stated, “When you look at the dark side, careful you must be. For the dark side looks back.” Hateful action will be reciprocated, and the pattern of suffering begins as it is received. In the simplest of algebraic deduction, fear = suffering.

I have cited many quotes from stoic philosophy in the past. My message today is less about becoming an immovable and solitary stone but about deliberately embracing the virtues of our humanity that perpetuate all things positive and lovely. Just as one can choose to curb emotional reaction behind the logical premise that it is ‘out of my control,’ one can also choose love over hatred.

The antonym of fear is faith. The two cannot exist in the same space as they are opposites. Faith has a similar progression to fear, moving in a divergent path on the line graph. The common response to actions of faith is hope and patience. As one looks at the world with optimism and tolerance, light becomes evident, and beliefs are formed. Belief in something greater than oneself evolves into love. A person consumed by love will love others, and the pattern of love will be reciprocated by its recipients, and they will feel joy. In the simplest of algebraic deduction, faith = joy.

Deftly darting around on a Sith speeder, a ‘Phantom Menace’ spreads fear worldwide. The work is evident everywhere, including the Heber Valley. The fruit of that work is hatred, and the collective harvest is suffering. While we may not have global influence, the Heber Valley is a microcosmic environment where the slightest shifts can still be felt. I challenge the community to choose faith when faced with fear, deliberately sewing seeds of love and harvesting joy indefinitely. Implementing this culture shift may be the only preservation effort that will matter in the long haul.

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