Why Are We (Americans) Afraid?
Recently, a friend of mine on Facebook posted the above picture on his wall. Immediately, after viewing it, I decided to write this post. The picture is an online poster that can be downloaded by clicking here. My interest is in what the poster has on it; I especially like the message of: “Americans need to stop being afraid!”
Are Americans afraid of other Americans? I think it is demonstrated almost daily in the local news reports. Back in 1998, an ABC poll showed that 98 percent of Americans were afraid of 98 percent of Americans. The poll and follow-up report stated that: “Between the criminal element, salesmen, religious zealots, alcoholics, minorities, immigrants, fast-driving teens, employers and panhandlers, a total of 49 in 50 Americans present a fearsome image to the vast majority of their fellow citizens.” The only non-feared Americans were the elderly, infirm and newborns! Wow! From my point of view, I don’t think Americans are any less afraid of other Americans in 2010.
Are Americans afraid of other religions? Well, we have to go no further than the Muslims trying to build a Mosque two blocks from where the World Trade Center used to be in downtown New York City. Americans have demonstrated over and over their “fear” of Muslims building a Mosque near where 9-11 occurred. Many have also expressed fear regarding whether or not President Obama is a muslim. Consider how Americans, who aren’t Mormons, react to the Mormon religion. Some consider them not Christians and some call them a cult. Americans have expressed fear of Scientology, Pentecostals, and even Hindus, due to Julia Robert’s film, “Eat, Pray, Love”; we appear to be afraid of almost any religion that is different from the one we practice.
The point is that we have Americans afraid of other religions, yet to the best of my knowledge, we have no religion in America that is against America. Some Americans seem to suffer from Theophobia (the fear of gods or religion). Many more most likely suffer from Xenophobia (fear of strangers or foreigners) – assuming they aren’t afraid of the religion they are practicing. This undoubtedly applies to the Americans that fear Muslims.
Are Americans afraid of other classes? Is the middle-class afraid of the “rich”-class? Is the rich afraid of the poor? I think the answers to the three previous questions are yes, yes, and yes. This is demonstrated through politics and the debate in congress over laws that affect the various classes. Consider the tax laws and how their structure is meant to favor a particular class when it’s near an election date. Or, consider how the middle-class democrats won’t raise taxes on the rich. How about the rich and middle-class being afraid that the poor will “get something for nothing.” Think about the fear that if all Americans had the same and good health insurance, we would not have insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies making the profit they currently enjoy. A profit that enables a few to get very rich at the expense of the sick.
Are Americans afraid of speaking out? Well, Americans shouldn’t be, but I believe many are. Why? I think it has more to do with a lack of appreciation for critical thought than anything else. Too often speaking out has a result of someone else speaking out louder, but not saying anything that adds, in a positive manner, to the conversation. We have non-stop media that uses celebrity talking heads to say the same thing over and over and over …… Seldom is there a concern for fairly addressing opposite points of view, new ideas, important implications, probable consequences, etc.
“We are Americans first. Act like it!” The obvious question here is: “What does it mean to act like an American?” Or, “What does it mean to be an American?” Since I am an American, having been so since I was born, I suppose as long as I act like me, then I’m acting like an American. :-) Of course, that is not what the statement(s) implies. I think we should draw on the history of America and the culture that has evolved over the past two-hundred years in order to answer the question. What is that culture? What does it mean to be an American?
Let’s consider what Americans aren’t. Americans are not of one race, ancestry, ethnicity, color, religion, or language. Of course, English is considered to be the primary language in America, but a person can be an American and not speak english. So far, it seems that being American simply implies citizenship. But, I’m sure that is not what the picture at the top of this post means. There must be something more to being an American than just citizenship.
Perhaps, if we appeal to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, then we can answer the question, “What does it mean to be an American?” From the Declaration of Independence we have the ideas of: all men are created equal and they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. The important rights that are most often referred to are: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Since this was in the background of thought for our founding fathers, then it seems reasonable to assume that the ideas of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness reflect American culture. I think being an American also implies an openness to discuss issues (the first amendment in the Bill of Rights involves freedom of speech) and a belief in the vision of America as inspired by the Declaration of Independence and later by the Constitution/Bill of Rights.
Finally, I think acting like an American means that we each openly express this vision of America as seen through its rules and laws, therefore we should not fear where a particular religious group decides to legally build. We should not fear a class we aren’t a part of as long as that class is within its lawful rights. We should not be afraid of fellow Americans using their legal right to speak out, even if we don’t personally agree with what is being said. We should not be afraid of law-abiding American citizens that are different from us. All Americans should, under the law of the land, be encouraged to be Americans who respect each other’s differences, live with liberty and free of being afraid of all of the “others!”
As I re-read what I wrote, I can imagine that many readers will not agree me. Please understand that, as mentioned before, I am an American and all I’m doing is exercising my right to “speak-out” without being afraid! :-)
What do you think?