The Only Thing We Have to Fear

The world just changed forever. War was declared on the whole world.

A friend from the National Security Agency told me recently how difficult it was to convince audiences lately of the of the real threat from asymmetrical warfare. The enemy is doing what it can to understand our collective mind, he said, and then will use the weakest link in our armor to strike terror into our collective hearts.

And so they have. With a simple coordinated attack the assumptions of the American people were changed forever. We live in America, I have been saying, as if it were America and not Israel. In Israel people know they are in Israel. They live accordingly.

Now we know too.

War is hell. It calls forth from us the best and the worse in our all-too-human natures. And now everyone knows what many have known for years, that we are at war.

Which means understanding who the enemy is and what it means to fight this war.

The first war is against fear and terror, as Franklin Roosevelt said. Nameless, unreasoning fear that distorts our thinking and feeling and changes the way we live our lives. Fear in the face of real threats is appropriate. Our collective task will be to distinguish real from illusory threats, real from imagined enemies, and stay as clear-thinking and focused as we can as we identify what is important in our lives and makes efforts to secure and defend what matters most.

So what, in moments like these, do we know?

We know that the first people we thought of are the most important people in our lives. The people we wanted to be with or who we feared were dead or injured or vulnerable to attack, those are the people that matter most.

Then that bond must expand and include all on whom we rely, all on whom we depend, all on whom we will call in the days and weeks and months ahead as comrades, friends, and allies. This is a moment that will ask everything of us as we struggle to attack and defend ourselves from real enemies and define our circles of loyalty and kinship with precision and care.

The enemy is fear, terror, and falsehood. Our allies are courage, strength in the face of adversity, resilience and flexibility and our capacity to respond to whatever life brings with genuine heroism. These are the marks of the freedom that lives in our souls.

Freedom is our capacity to live life as it is fired at us point blank from the barrel of a gun and never surrender that which makes us human and that which makes us free.

The world has changed, now, forever, and the boundaries that we draw around ourselves, who is in and who is out, will change forever too. We will discover who we really are in the weeks ahead.

But I know from fifty-seven years on this fragile planet who we are in our best moments and I pray that we have the courage to be who we are.

I think of how I responded to someone who was worried that when I left the ministry, it meant that I had lost my faith in the existence of God.

Do you believe, she asked, in God?

Yes, I said, in my heart I know that God exists. But, I added.

Thinking of the horror. Thinking of the oppression in people's lives. Thinking of the bloodshed.

That doesn't mean things aren't as bad as they look.

Our challenge now is to know both are true. Things are every bit as bad as they look and people do evil things and rejoice in the bloodshed. And in my heart I know that God exists and is manifest in freedom, freedom from fear and terror, the freedom to respond to whatever life brings with dignity, elasticity, and heroism.

The only thing we have to fear now is fear, the primary weapon of our enemies. Because I know who we are, I know that we have what it takes to do what is necessary now, how we must structure our world and our lives, and how we must rededicate ourselves to the creation of a global society in which freedom and not fear and terror are the hallmarks of our humanity.

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Islands in the Clickstream is an intermittent column written by Richard Thieme exploring social and cultural dimensions of computer technology and the ultimate concerns of our lives. Comments are welcome.

Richard Thieme is a professional speaker, consultant, and writer focused on the impact of computer technology on individuals and organizations - the human dimensions of technology and work - and "life on the edge."

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Islands in the Clickstream (c) Richard Thieme, 2001. All rights reserved.

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Date created: 29-Apr-04