Dr. Karl Albrecht argues there are only five basic fears (from which the rest of our fears spring):
1) Extinction — death
2) Mutilation — invasion of bodily boundaries
3) Loss of Autonomy — physical, relational, social restriction
4) Separation — loss of connectedness
5) Ego-death — fear of humiliation
This pandemic engages all of these fears. However, it activates different fears in different groups of people. (Note: many will argue that they are not motivated by fear, stating they are driven by the facts. This often stems from the false idea that all fear is bad. We were created with the capacity to fear. Fear is a good instinct—provided that the right things inform our fears.)
For some, it engages the fear of (1) death from COVID and (2) sickness from COVID. For others, it stirs the fear of (3) loss of freedom (mask mandates; government control) and (4) separation from other people (social distancing).
It can engage (5) in both groups, particularly if they find their approval and acceptedness in conforming to a pundit or group’s position. (“If all my friends do/don’t ____, that’s how I’ll behave.” “I don’t dare differ from them!”)
Fear is the easiest motivation to manipulate (which is why it is a core motivation in almost all advertising). We live in an age where nearly all news and talk radio programs major on fear and urgency (so that you have to keep listening and watch/listen/subscribe tomorrow. Recognizing this is key to loving your neighbor during the pandemic.
Remember that much of what you’re hearing is aimed at exploiting your fears so that they can keep you listening to get advertisers. Let that temper your listening and reacting. Take a break from social media and all news for a day (or two or a week). Spend time in nature, reading a novel, listening to good music. Notice what happens to your stress levels as you are distanced from these things. Are you anxious at first? Why? What happens to your stress levels? Does the world end while you’re away?
Remember that the person with the opposite response is motivated by fear, just as we are. (This is true even if it is denied or unrecognized.) We all fear what will happen if we do or don’t do a particular thing. The friction arises because we have different fears. Each believes strongly that their fear is more justified than the fear of those with the opposite pandemic response.
The information justifying our fears is essential and ought to be discussed. But recognizing our shared pursuit of “safety” should give us a sense of compassion for our neighbor. Slow down. Ask them what they’re afraid of. Listen to their response. Understand and appreciate it, even if you disagree.
Now consider this: the most frequent command in Scripture is “Do not be afraid.” Ask yourself how Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and reign speak to the fears that motivate you.