We’re scared to have our opinions challenged, Jackie Summers writes, but we need to keep having the conversations.
Arachibutyrophobia: Fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth.
Along with desire, it’s one of the primary motivating factors behind most human actions. Fear of scarcity. Fear of being marginalized. Fear of being embarrassed. Fear of being powerless. Fear that the way of life to which you’ve grown accustomed is changing. Fear of loss. Fear of death.
While everyone has something they’re afraid of, the important thing to remember is: fear serves a purpose. Fear preserves. Fear protects. In eons past, before humans were on top of the food chain, when your hackles–the short, fine hairs on the back of your neck–went up, it was because you sensed imminent danger that you couldn’t see or hear. The appropriate fear of things larger–and scarier–than ourselves, saved lives.
Fear told you to flee. Or to fight.
Human beings (over)compensated for the absence of fangs and claws with oversized frontal lobes. We discovered we could outthink creatures we couldn’t outrun or outfight. We found strength in unity. Families became tribes. Tribes became cities became states, and as the competition for (perceived) limited resources grew, we became less afraid of things that go bump in the night, and more afraid of each other.
In a worst case scenario, fear can immobilize you, paralyze you, preventing any precautionary action. In an even worse case scenario, fear short-circuits the capacity for rational thought, and instead triggers preemptive action. In the words of Yoda, “fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
It didn’t work out well for Anakin Skywalker. Deep irrational fears that you can’t even admit, triggering emotions that you don’t understand, rarely works out well for anyone. Evidence of this is overabundant in the world we inhabit.
According to the Buddha, suffering is the default human condition. His recommendation was to detach from desire. Needless to say, this is easier said than done, or everybody would be a Bodhisattva. We’re corporeal, and while we are stuck in these meat-sacks, we crave. We want food, we want money, we want power, we want sex. According to Maslow, it’s only once these base desires are sated that we seek greater enlightenment; people who are fighting for survival aren’t allowed the luxury of philosophy. Once we feel essentially safe, we can begin to seek greater understanding of the world around us, and the impact of our actions on others.
Epistemophobia: Fear of knowledge.
When Lisa Hickey first asked me to contribute to The Good Men Project, it was to write about sex and relationships. It didn’t take long before Lisa challenged me to discuss topics far beyond the realm of romance. Before I knew it, I was deeply engaged in discussions on race, gender, class, and a plethora of other incredibly difficult subjects. Having already discussed the most intimate matters of my personal life in candid detail in my blog,F*cking in Brooklyn, I thought myself no stranger to controversy.
I was wrong. I was entirely unprepared for the level of vitriol my contributions would engender.
I’m not given to inflammatory rhetoric; no matter what topic, I’ve tried to tell my stories, from my perspective. At first, I didn’t understand why this would “raise the hackles” of readers. Why were seemingly intelligent people so willing–so eager–to engage in heated arguments with complete strangers?
And then it dawned on me: people are afraid. When information is presented that challenges a personal worldview, frontal lobes short-circuit. The compulsion to defend–and sometimes to attack–overrides the capacity for rational thought. The need to denigrate that which is feared overshadows the desire to understand the unfamiliar.
I sincerely believe this is the subtext beneath why no one actually admits to being racist, sexist, classist, or homophobic, and why these topics trigger such acrimony: fear that the actualization of another’s rights will infringe on existing privilege. Fear masquerading as anger. Anger manifesting as hate. The lesson of strength in unity entirely forgotten, replaced by a desperate need to feel secure in one’s own perceptions.
Also forgotten; what fear desires–more than anything–is to be overcome.
What separates The Good Men Project from other men’s magazines is: ongoing dialogue. Despite occasional pitfalls in language, the raison d’être at GMP is not to pontificate; rather it is to have an evolving conversation about the nature of goodness, and how it can–and should–affect modern masculinity. And the terrific thing about a conversation is: it is–by definition–an interchange of thoughts.
The Good Men Project aspires to create discussions around some of the greatest ills facing society. At the same time, GMP recognizes that, if you find yourself in an argument and you can’t articulate the opposing point of view as well as your own, you’re not listening hard enough. Civilized dissenting opinions are always encouraged. A safe environment where we can seek greater understanding of the world around us, and the impact of our actions on others, is being fomented.
As difficult as these conversations may be, we absolutely will not solve 100% of the problems we–for whatever reason–can’t, don’t, or won’t discuss. The floor’s open. We’re listening.