Like many, I enjoyed the July 4th cookouts, relaxation with family, friends and fireworks, but it was also a time for remembrances and reflection.
I came of age in the 1960s, the Camelot era. Our parents had endured the hardships, sacrifices and losses from World War II and had transitioned from a nation producing machines, munitions and manpower for the war effort into one building cars, houses, schools and infrastructure to accommodate the population explosion known as Baby Boomers. America believed we could out think, out innovate, out dream and out work anyone anywhere. There was nothing we could not do in this era of great optimism, becoming the most prosperous, powerful and influential nation on earth. Our moral fiber convinced us to embrace and rectify racial inequality and unequal rights for women. We embraced the new technologies of television, computers, space travel and new drugs and medical procedures, recognizing their role helping us attain a happier, longer and more prosperous life. And we opened our arms to immigrants also wanting that better life.
Somewhere, somehow we changed. We have become a fearful people, afraid of those who don’t look like us, who come from different nations, belong to a different party or have different viewpoints. We’ve even become fearful of each other, convinced we must stockpile weapons to protect what we’ve got. We lost trust in government, in business and even in faith-based institutions. Our politicians, mindful that the shortest path to election is to create enemies and play on our fears, capitalized on them instead of tomorrow’s hopes and dreams.
In a recently published compilation of his writings, the late Henri Nouwen, the great 20th Century theologian, wrote in Turn My Mourning into Dancing, “…we are a fearful people. We dread physical need or discomfort. We fear for our safety and our jobs. We even grow fearfully suspicious of others and hoard our belongings. On the level of international relations, well-to-do countries, such as those where many of us live, build walls around our wealth so that no stranger can take it away from us. We build bombs to protect what we have become convinced we must defend. But in a great irony, we thereby become captives of our own fears. Those who can make us afraid have power over us. Those who make us live in a house of fear ultimately take our freedom away.”
Fear, like hatred, is a crippling condition that paralyzes and prevents us from being our best selves and our nation from being what Reagan termed a “shining city on a hill.” To be sure those patriots in 1776 had some fear for what would happen should they lose the revolution, but they did not dwell on their fears, focusing instead on their passion for freedom and hopes for a better nation filled with great opportunity.
These are certainly difficult times and we would be fool hearty to dismiss or minimize potential dangers and threats. But neither can we let our fears own us and turn away from those who try to capitalize on them. As we remember where we came from and where we’ve been, we must always set our sights to where we can go, who we can become and move out of the house of fear.
Tom Campbell is the Executive Producer and Moderator of NC Spin.