Fear: the enemy of the joy of living
by Leonardo Boff
Around the world, as in Brazil, people today are tormented by a fear of assaults, some times deadly, and by stray bullets and terrorist attacks. The recent terrorist acts in Barcelona and London caused widespread fear, regardless of how many demonstrations of solidarity and calls for peace there were.
Getting to the bottom of matters, we must recognize that this generalized state of fear is ultimately a consequence of the type of society that has placed accumulation of material goods above people, and has established competition, rather than cooperation, as its most important value. Moreover, it has chosen violence as a means of solving personal and social problems.
Competition must be distinguished from emulation. Emulation is good, because it brings to the surface the best within us, and shows it with simplicity. Competition is problematic, because it means the victory of the strongest of the contenders, defeating all the others, which generates tension, conflict and wars.
There is no peace in a society where this logic has become hegemonic, only armistice. There is always the fear of losing, losing market share, competitive advantage, earnings, one’s place of work and of losing life itself.
The will to accumulate also produces anxiety and fear. Its dominant logic is this: those who do not have want to have; those who have, want more; and those who have more say: there is never enough. The will to accumulate feeds the structure of a desire that, as we know, is insatiable. Therefore, it seeks to guarantee the level of accumulation and consumption. That results in anxiety and a fear of not having, of losing the level of consumption, of descending in social status and, finally, of becoming poor.
The use of violence to solve problems between countries, as shown in the United States’ war against Iraq, is based on the illusion that by defeating or humiliating the other we can create peaceful coexistence. Something that is evil to the core, like violence, cannot be the source of a lasting good. A peaceful end demands peaceful means. Human beings can lose, but they will never tolerate wounds to their dignity. Wounds that cannot heal remain open, and there is always rancor and a spirit of revenge, a humus that nourishes terrorism, victimizing many innocent lives, as we have seen in so many countries.
Our society of a white, machista and authoritarian Western nature has chosen the path of repressive and aggressive violence. For that reason, Western societies are always involved in wars, ever more destructive, as the current war in Syria, with increasingly sophisticated guerrillas, and more frequent attacks. Behind these facts lurks an ocean of hatred, bitterness and the desire for revenge. Fear floats like a mantle of darkness over the collectives and individual people.
Caring by one for the other invalidates fear and its sequels. Caring constitutes a fundamental value for understanding life and the relationships between all beings. Without caring, life is neither born nor reproduced. Caring is the primary guide of behavior, so that its effects are good and strengthen coexistence.
To care for people is to get involved with them, to be interested in their well being, and to feel responsible for their destiny. Because of that, we care for all we love and we love all we care for.
A society that is guided by caring, caring for the Common Home, the Earth, caring for the ecosystems that guarantee the conditions of the biosphere and of our life, caring for the food security of everyone, caring for social relationships, so that they may be participatory, equitable, just and peaceful, caring for the spiritual environment of the culture, thereby allowing people to enjoy a positive sense of life, to accept limitations, aging and death itself as part of mortal life, such a society of caring will enjoy the peace and harmony needed for human coexistence.
It is in moments of great fear that the words of the 23rd Psalm gain special meaning: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” The good shepherd assured: “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.”
Who lives this faith feels accompanied by and in the palm of the hand of God. Human life gains lightness and maintains, even in the middle of risks and threats, a serene joyfulness and happiness of living. It does not much matter what will befall us, because it will happen in His love. He knows the path, and He knows it well.
Leonardo Boff is a Brazilian theologian and a member of the Earthcharter Commission. This column is translated by Melina Alfaro at the Refugio de Rio Grande in Texas.
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