Last week I participated in a group debate on Zoom sponsored by Braver Angels, a national movement/organization committed to depolarizing America. The debate topic was: “guns make people safer”. I spent my three minutes talking about fear; that we all are afraid – given climate change, covid, Ukraine, gun violence, inflation and God knows what else. And our response to fear can take on some stark differences: many people feel the need to arm themselves for protection, and many others work to limiting access, production and ownership of guns. As I had done in an earlier post, I described guns as “fear transfer machines”, in that guns literally fire one’s fear into someone who is a perceived threat or an actual assailant. The source of fear is then removed – for a moment. The fear inevitably comes back, stronger than before.
After I finished my short presentation, questions were invited. A man who identified himself on the “guns make people safer” side of the debate asked, how can my discourse on fear help when we are dealing with a tyrannical government? And my visceral reaction to his question, which I know I didn’t verbally share and hoped that I didn’t visually reveal was, really? Government is tyrannical? Not to be trusted? How can you believe that?
But he did.
For a moment I wanted to put him down, strongly suggest that he was wrong and I was right, and that he was intoxicated by disinformation. But I didn’t. I did say that I didn’t perceive government the way he did, and I did acknowledge his position. And I said that I would like to hear more about how he has come to see the government as a citadel of tyranny.
Time didn’t afford the opportunity to explore his argument. But several days of reflection has enabled me to reflect on mine. My initial reaction to his question was my own form of tyranny; the tyranny of being right. His fear of tyranny awakened a tyranny gene in me, a trait that we all carry and often use. And often don’t see.
This tyrannical gene gives full throttle to the ego and short circuits the soul. It puts one on the offensive or – if under threat, on red-alert defense. And shuts down the possibility of conversation.
Several years ago I read a book by Episcopal priest and professor John Snow: I Win, We Lose: The New Social Darwinism and the Death of Love and other Writings. He claimed that the intense desire to win, to be right, undermines community and reduces love to a bodily function. More than any time I can remember, the American culture is caught in the throes of I win, we lose.
My initial reaction to my questioner was filled with disdain. He shouldn’t believe that, my ego driven self said to me. What I needed to do, what we as a society need to do, and what my soul wants me to do, is to respond differently. Not, ‘how can you believe that?’ but, ‘tell me how you have come to believe that and what does it mean for you’? And ‘how can I learn from you’?
It can open a door. Even when our tyranny genes are trying to keep it closed.