There are quite a few sociologists who are convinced that there is a culture of fear in our society. A good remedy against fear is love. But we fear, even love.
Stories of fear
G. is 23 years old. A beautiful age. However, if you look into his eyes you do not see much love for life. G. grew up without his father. From the age of thirteen, the street was his mother and father. Under the bad influence of his friends he ended up in prison at his eighteenth.
He has been released from prison a few months. The tough teenager from Brussels is cracked both physically and mentally by guards there. There is not much left of what was him. Empty eyes and filled with fear. Fear for all that is new and unknown.
S. is 29 years old. When we first met she was running an unpaid internship at a human rights organisation. She spoke with full dedication on human rights and the political situation in Italy, her country of origin. The rent she needed to pay with the money of her parents. After her internship it took about a year to find a job. I saw her changing. The dedication made place for fear. At each unanswered job application or negative answer the uncertainty and fear grew.
Now that she finally has a job she is afraid to lose her job. During the week she works from 8 am to 6 pm In the weekends she does odd jobs to supplement her income. She wants to prove to herself and even more to her family and friends that she can make it.
D. is 35 years old and works for a bank. He works mostly from 8 am to 11 pm. because of cutbacks at his work, even though his bank posted several billions of profit in 2014, his team was cut down from 14 to 8 people. He was telling me his body would not cope any longer the long days and the stress at work. ‘Sometimes I don’t see my two children for days.’ Despite these conditions he claimed that he was treated very well at work and feared to lose his job.
M. is 31 and she did recently lose her job. She could not handle the pressure. She is suffering a burnout and depression. She fears that she will end up homeless and will not find a job again. Because of this fear she is reaching for the bottle more and more often and making the future look even bleaker.
G., S., D. and M. and are n exceptions. We are surrounded by people of all layers of society who are living in fear. The rich fear to lose their wealth and status. The middle class hears daily how people of lower classes are flawed and this makes them afraid. Afraid to become part of the class, which is blamed by everyone. Those in poverty and exclusion live in fear. A fear of the brutal struggle to survive.
‘Everybody is afraid’
Fear is ingrained in all of us. It has been normalized. In conversations we use mostly the word ‘afraid’ as ‘fear’ sounds heavier. Fear is easily associated with weakness and illness, while ‘being afraid’ not as ‘everybody is afraid’.
Afraid to survive; afraid to fail; afraid to go live together; afraid to think of having children; afraid of tomorrow…
There is so much fear that you would think we had better stop living at all, was it not for the fact that we fear death, too.
Of course, with the present social and economical crisis and the austerity policy that is ruling in Europe, the problem of fear has only been increasing. Crisis reproduces insecurity and fear.
The peculiar thing is that there are also an astonishing number of politicians who play on the fear discourse for their own benefit and in this way add to the society-wide fear. Add to this the media which each minute bombard us with frightening images. Terrorism, extremis, criminality, IS, ebola, refugees, illnesses, natural disasters… Bad news sells. From reports to live streaming until we are fully blinded by fear. Who knows maybe one day we will not even dare come outside?
‘Adam zkt Eva’
Fear has various causes en we have to try to tackle as many as possible. To start with the socio-economical one. As citizens we have little to say on this as the power lies with the politicians and economical elite. There is, however, a remedy that is in our hands: love. I believe that love is a good remedy against fear.
But love itself has become feared. If we speak on love then it must be as superficial as possible. A brief glance at bestsellers and TV shows is enough to see this.
This summer VRT (Flemish television) is launching ‘Vind je lief’ (Find your sweetheart), a program to help the thousands of singles in Belgium to find a boy or girlfriend. On TV stations such Vijf you can watch ‘Forbidden love’. On Vitaya there is ‘Cheating in love’, because ‘1 out of 3 Dutch people cheats her/his partner. Speaking of Netherlands, it is there no different than in Belgium. On RTL5 they even take it a step further in dating programs. ‘Adam zkt Eva’ (Adam in search of Eve), is a show in which two singles meet each other for the first time somewhere in an island in Philippines, both of them naked. By now this show has been adapted in 12 other countries all over Europe.
Such programs teach us that love is a product. To find a partner is like going to the supermarket to buy potatoes. If they don’t have the brand and taste you want than you just go to another supermarket.
But love is not a product. It is more than that, but also not everything. Love will not exterminate poverty, love with not solve the problem of unemployment. On the other hand there are people who work and have enough money, and yet have more fear than love. This is why it is an and/and story.
A society of love instead of a society of fear
Love is the most concrete alternative we have. Think for a second how the world would look like if we were to believe in love. If children were taught love at school. If real love and not superficial love would connect us in our relationships, friendships and communities. A society of love.
Those who choose love stay positive in life. Love makes possible that we grow, evolve and become complete as human beings. Love helps us to build confidence. First of all self-confidence. We cannot have confidence in the other if we do not have confidence in our selves.
Love teaches us that self-love is very important. Self-love is not egoism or narcissism but a personal quest for our place in the world. Self-love is needed to accept our selves and take responsibility. If we choose for love, we cannot but realise that life is not just about us.
Love can help us to give the needed time and attention to our relationships, friendships, families and communities. As it is in these places that love can flourish and grow because people come together to be together, to share.
Each small step forward in love is a huge step forward against fear.
Another world is possible and desirable, but the question is what kind of world we want. If we want a better world then love must be the foundation. Change without love is no radical change.
Bleri Lleshi is political philosopher and author of various books. At the moment he is writing a book on love. You can read his blog here and you can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
This article has been earlier published on Brussels Times Magazine.