Love casts out fear, but we have to get over the fear in order to get close enough to love them.
-Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement
The only way to ease our fear and be truly happy is to acknowledge our fear and look deeply at its source. Instead of trying to escape from our fear, we can invite it up to our awareness and look at it clearly and deeply.
-Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist
“We always tend to fear the wrong things, which means we tend not to pay attention to the things we ought to fear.”
This may have been the single most important piece of wisdom that we received in our first week of the Learn to Farm program here at Maggie’s. We were talking about the dangers involved with tractor operation and maintenance, but it could easily be applied to chainsaw operation. Or felling trees. Or working with electric fences.
When I arrived here just a few weeks ago, I was terrified of all these things. Especially the electric fences.
But after just a few weeks my fear of these things has been replaced by a healthy appreciation of the real risks involved. What I’m starting to feel is an educated, knowledgeable fear of those things that are actually dangerous—not an uninformed, undirected fear about things with which I have no experience.
The thing is, most of our initial fears as student farmers are misdirected. Yes, farming creates many risks; statistically, farming is one of the most dangerous professions. But our tendency to fear the wrong things for the wrong reasons draws our attention away from the real risks, and real-life experience can mitigate both our justified and our more unfounded fears.
This wisdom could also be applied situations that have nothing to do with farming.
It’s a season of fear for many people in the world outside Maggie’s. The U.S. presidential election certainly isn’t helping, but I think that there’s an even deeper collective malaise and unease underlying it all. The whole planet feels ripe for revolution and uprising. Justified rage is morphing into understandable resistance—as well as more difficult-to-apprehend violence and hate. Power balances are shifting. The climate is changing in devastating and unpredictable ways.
There’s plenty to fear, and some of those fears are based on real, substantial risks.
But what if we’re fearing the wrong things out there in the world, and not just here on the farm? What would it look like to fear the right things?
What if our fear of one another—of people who walk, or eat, or speak, or worship, or think, or vote differently than us—became a fear about disconnection from one another? Or nature? Or our food? What if our individual fears about the state of the world were transformed into collective fear about cruelty, violence, and hatred in all its forms?
What if we realized that many of our fears are rooted in a lack of experience with and knowledge of one another? What if we chose to direct our well-informed concerns to the real sources of our fears and anxieties instead of facing the world with fear at all?
Farming teaches us that our fears can be healthy and normal when there are real risks involved, but that we must overcome those fears and replace them with a thorough assessment of which risks are real and which are imagined, real-world knowledge, and collective action as a community. It teaches us that there is less to fear when we face daily challenges with awareness and understanding.
I hope that the rest of the world learns that lesson, too.