Sunday, May 18, 2014

How we confront our fears

The other day, one of those black, hairy spiders, the ones that are over an inch long and look like a child of Shelob from Lord of the Rings, crawled past my co-worker's feet. She screamed and jumped back, and the now-frightened spider tried to hide in a corner. Startled, I hollered too, then grabbed a tissue box and chased the bugger until he was history. When I was done flushing his remnants down the toilet, I scrubbed my hands and shuddered. But my poor co-worker had barely moved from her frozen terror.

I'm not fond of spiders, and ones longer than my thumb and hairier than a chihuahua give me the creeps. But the incident made me think - why do we each react so differently to what we're afraid of? Some of us are temporarily paralyzed by our fear. Unable to react to or gain control over the object of our fear, it controls us and leaves us vulnerable. Thieves who use the victim's own fear as a weapon against them take advantage of this very human reaction.

Then there are people who fight against the object of their fear. This may be a positive fight, as I hope mine was, ridding my workplace of a totally gross critter. But others may exhibit their fight against the object of their fear in a negative, harmful way. In a recent op-ed in the NY Times, Nicholas Kristof says that Boko Haram, the terrorist group responsible for kidnapping over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls, is reacting to their own fears.

He says that they are afraid of the societal changes bound to take place when girls and women are educated. The result of education for girls is a society in which women are more able to provide for themselves and their families. This means a more robust economy which in turn strengthens the tax base. Educated women are less likely to be dependent on a male provider, and may not be willing to remain in a more traditional subservient role.

So maybe that's why Boko Haram is lashing out at the Nigerian schoolgirls. They are afraid that intelligent, educated women will not put up with their bullying and will not go along with their propaganda.

Image from Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn 

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