What are you afraid of? What are your nightmares made of? I have the normal garden variety fears…snakes, spiders, tornados…King Kong (Dont judge me, he was very scary!).
But one of my biggest fears involves an insect. The giant grasshopper. I remember one summer vividly, the horrifying images etched into my brain. My family had come from New Orleans (where we lived at that time) to visit my grandparents, who lived in Monroeville, Alabama. Greg, my brother was about 12, I was 10, and my little brother, Tony was only 8. It was a Sunday afternoon, hot and humid…those sticky southern days of August. My grandparents took us to Tunnel Springs, Alabama to visit my great grandfather. As we pulled up slowly in the gravel drive, a strange sight caught my attention. Framing my great grandfather’s front porch were (what seemed like) a hundred giant grasshoppers….like tiny Ninja warriors…all black with yellow stripes running up their backs. Having never seen a Southeastern Lubber before, I refused to budge from the car. My grandfather (aka the bravest man in the world) picked up a hose and blasted them with a burst of water. The monsters fell to the ground and scurried towards the trees behind the house. I ran inside…to the safety of the house. But my brothers decided to stay outside. After a little while, I got bored and curious to see what the boys were doing. I went onto the side porch and saw them. Incredulously, they were chasing and catching those enormous black grasshoppers. Spying me, they looked at each other (Never, ever a good sign) and both started running towards me with giant bugs in their hands. Letting out a Yelp, I turned and retreated screaming back into the house. Their taunting laughter burned my ears…but no way was I going back outside. On the way home, they called me chicken and scaredy cat.
Flash forward thirty years. At forty, I had a little 10 year old girl of my own. She was, and still is, my greatest Joy. I wanted her to grow up strong, independent and unafraid to take chances. And I knew that words could teach, but actions make a long lasting impression.
We were walking into a grocery store one night in Cullman, Alabama. As we approached the automatic doors, my daughter gasped and grabbed my hand. Pointing to the ceiling in front of us, she screamed, “what are those!”. I looked up and the roof of the overhang…the one we had to walk through…was covered in Giant Grasshoppers.
Trauma 101 kicked in…fight…flight..or freeze. I was struggling mightily not to choose flight, leaving my daughter and running for the car. But my adult brain kicked in and flooded me with thoughts.
They are not dangerous
They dont bite
Your child is watching how you handle this.
So, I bent down and told her that when I was her age, I was scared of these creatures too. (Truth is, I still was!!!) I explained that they wouldn’t hurt us. If she wanted to keep going I would hold her hand. But if she was too scared, we could turn around and leave. ( of course I was hoping she would choose the latter).
She looked at my face, weighing the desire for ice cream (our mission at the store) with her fear. Finally, she said she could keep going. So we slowly walked under those giant creatures as their blood thirsty eyes watched us and we entered the store.
Had I overcome my fear of grasshoppers? Heck no! I’m still afraid of them! But I demonstrated courage to face my fear for the sake of something more important.
In her book Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown writes: The Foundation of Courage is Vulnerability–the ability to navigate uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure.
Courage doesnt mean lack of fear. Courage involves taking risks. Courage involves taking steps you are not confident of, because it is the right path for you.
With all of the fear-fueled hate in the world (we tend to distrust what we dont understand), courage has taken a back seat to conformity and inclusion.
Watching world events and how we are reacting to them, causes me great sadness. Social Media streams rants full of finger pointing, name calling and blatantly incorrect facts aimed solely at winning people to their corner. And this occurs on both sides of an issue, a party, a prejudice and a point of view.
What I am observing is little movement towards understanding.
For example, you may not agree with a different religion like Islam. And you dont have to. The invasive rhetoric spread on media sites and terrorist activity tends to be the underlying cause of the fear and mistrust. I won’t go into an argument about our own issues with American domestic terrorism perpetrated by hate groups here. But, whatever their religious beliefs may be… it takes real courage to look behind their dogma to see the human being. You would find real people who love and raise families and dream just like us. Be courageous…look deeper.
You may be upset that people are coming into the country illegally. As and that is your right and completely understandable. But it takes real courage to look in the eyes of a child who was separated from his mother at the border and see the trauma. And even more courage to call out for a different way to address the issue. Be courageous.
You may find homosexuality abhorrent and unrighteous. Again, you have every right to feel and believe as you do. But it takes courage to see beyond your belief to the actual person. All humans as deserving of dignity and worth even if you do not agree with their lifestyle. It takes even more courage to get close enough to really see their hearts, their minds, their contributions to the world and love them as you would any other person. Be courageous.
And if you share none of the convictions above and truly believe in the value in all humans where do you exercise courage?
It is, perhaps the most risky, vulnerable thing of all…Speaking Up…But do it without anger or defensiveness. When in a group of friends, relatives and colleagues, upon hearing a collective dialogue regarding a group or person based on prejudice, keeping silent is safe.
It takes real courage to interject the idea of looking at the individual or group as humans first and a category second. Gently start a dialogue, and dont become defensive when the counterpoints are driven home. After all, these people are not monsters for the things they believe. They, too are humans with value, worth and deserving of dignity.
You will probably not affect the group’s pre-conceived idea. However, you may plant the tiniest seed for germination in one person. One seed at a time is how gardens are made. You also might find others who believe in human worth and individuality versus collective disdain, but lacked the courage to speak up. Watching your courage may ignite theirs.
Standing up for what’s right takes more courage than facing giant grasshoppers. So they say.