Thanks to all our fans who went out of their way to express concern for us. We know you have troubles and concerns of your own, yet so many are looking out for us. It was especially gratifying to see gift orders being sent to health professionals or to our good neighbor partners. And despite all the crazy stories about hoarding and gun-buying, or reckless partying, there is also a shadow economy of goodwill, kindness and deep generosity that we get to be both part and recipient of. So stunning and so powerful. It’s a reminder to me that kindness and love—not the stock market or closed borders—are going to save the world.
Like you, we’re dealing with interrupted routines and unpredictable emotions. I feel heartsick for those we know with part-time jobs ending or in jeopardy. I’ve tried to go on a walk each evening this week, enjoying the light and the water and the quietness of empty streets. But the shuttered restaurants feel like a bad dream. And I never felt so happy to run payroll, knowing those checks are especially important to our employees who may be losing other part-time jobs this week. And I’m getting more used to Zoom—at least enjoying my virtual background in Maui.
I gave up booze for Lent, which of course seemed like a great idea until there was a pandemic. The good thing is I’m reading more in the evenings. I abandoned my dystopian doorstopper of a novel full of addicted paranoid characters that I was more than halfway through and started the Ursula K. LeGuin EarthSea series instead, which I'd picked up last year in an Audible sale. Swooping dragons, transfiguring wizards, and adventures on the high seas are just about perfect. Plus the stories come with the good memories of reading them to our kids when they were little.
What I’d forgotten is that they are also about fear—fear of death, of weakness, of being humiliated, of believing false promises, of facing terrible past mistakes. In each story the hero reaches a point where she or he can’t run away any longer from fear. The only solution is a U-turn so that the hunter becomes the hunted and the fear gets chased to the ends of the earth. If you (or your children) are afraid these days or if you just need a little break from Netflix (or too much pandemic booze) these are pretty fun books to read together.
But I thought I’d share a quote and a few thoughts about fear from bell hooks:
Cultures of domination rely on the cultivation of fear as a way to ensure obedience. In our society we make much of love and say little about fear. Yet we are all terribly afraid most of the time. As a culture we are obsessed with the notion of safety. Yet we do not question why we live in states of extreme anxiety and dread. Fear is the primary force upholding structures of domination. It promotes the desire for separation, the desire not to be known. When we are taught that safety lies always with sameness, then difference of any kind will appear as a threat. When we choose to love we choose to move against fear—against alienation and separation. The choice to love is a choice to connect—to find ourselves in the other. (all about love, p. 125).
I keep wondering why our president insists on calling this the “Chinese virus.” I know it’s probably a way to irk and distract people like me (sadly, it really works), but it also seems like a gross attempt to hook the fear of difference that so many Americans grow up with. I feel bad even repeating the phrase.
The crazy part of this to me is that difference should be a celebration. I would bet you that any person who has ever genuinely experienced a deep, meaningful relationship with someone from a different ethnicity or culture doesn’t want to lose the gift of that difference. Retreating to sameness would be like choosing to live in a gray world after seeing one in full color. It really makes me feel kind of bad for our president.
But then also it’s possible that the fear of difference isn’t really the issue; maybe the fear is directed at difference because that's the easiest way to manipulate others. The real goal is to dominate or feel powerful. I do think feeling powerful can give the illusion of having triumphed over fear. But this kind of fear is doubly deceitful because the stronger it is in someone, the less they might even recognize it as fear.
As bell hooks puts it near the end of her book: In a world anguished by rampant destruction, fear prevails. When we love, we no longer allow our hearts to be held captive by fear. The desire to be powerful is rooted in the intensity of fear. Power gives us the illusion of having triumphed over fear, over our need for love. To return to love, to know perfect love, we surrender the will to power... We cannot know love if we remain unable to surrender our attachment to power, if any feeling of vulnerability strikes terror in our hearts. Lovelessness torments. (p. 253).
Deep I know. These are deep times. But no deeper than children’s stories about dragons. Maybe today I’m going to order the 4th book in the series.
*NOTE: I changed the name of this blog post from On fear, love, bell hooks, and “the Chinese virus.” I’m trying to avoid repeating an inaccurate term and stigmatizing, racist trigger in the title. Unfortunately we already used the old title, without quotes, in a newsletter which understandably surprised and hurt people. I’m adding my apology to this blog.
Just a quick note of apology. We mishandled things by putting “Chinese Virus” in the subject line
So I’m saying sorry. In the blog I addressed what I find distressing about our president’s use of the word, but we've handled this in a way that was ambiguous. I know that anything to do with racism shouldn’t be ambiguous.
Thanks to those who cared enough to speak up. It’s some consolation to hear this upsets people. You are welcome to talk to me directly if you were hurt by that.