Thursday, December 16, 2010

Travelogue II: Fear and Hope

There have been two main emotions evoked thus far in my travelings, assuming exhaustion is not an emotion, and they are fear and hope. Let us start with the fear, for it came first.

Aside from the mundane fears of missing flights, connections, or getting stabbed to death in the gritty streets of Portland, I experienced some more interesting fears this trip. As I mentioned yesterday, I started out at the wrong terminal, which definitely contributed to my fear of missing my flight; however, on the bus I experienced a different type of fear. I took a shuttle to the other terminal and, in the course of that interminable seeming journey, two men of vaguely Persian appearance got on board. And let me stress here that it was very much of vague appearance; logically I realize that their facial features match those of people that I know from the Indian Subcontinent all the way to Italy. However, after they shared a slight nod, I began to evaluate whether or not they were a threat.

Of course my association of their appearance with the Middle East informed my fear in the encounter, and of course I think that this is an undesirable thing. That said, I think it is an important thing to admit and confront. When the frenzy of condemnation for the NPR analyst occurred, I was tempted to make a similar point, but cowed into quiet by the overwhelming negative backlash to his revelation. From my understanding he was trying to say that increased wariness around people perceived to be of Middle Eastern descent was both natural and should not be condemned.

I agree with both points, although perhaps for different reasons than he has. It is natural; human beings associate to concepts whether we are being told that they are linked, or being explicitly told that they are not. So, whatever you say when you argue about all Irishmen being drunkards, you are reinforcing the mental connection between the concepts. I also agree that it should not be condemned, not because it is desirable that we have these fears, not even because it is natural that we have these fears, but because I believe an open, rational examination of our darker emotions is beneficial necessary if we are to come to terms with them, rather than be ruled by them. If we produce public outcry when people admit to these human failings, it seems that we only push them deeper, which seems to causes them to fester rather than disappear. Try not to think about white bears, you only end up thinking about them more. Thus, I would rather see admission, without acceptance, of such problematic responses, as I am trying to do here.

That is all I have to say about that facet of fear, but I do think it worth noting the other thoughts that entered my mind as I wondered if the shuttle that I was on was about to become a smoldering wreckage. One big thought was that it was terribly unlikely to be the case, followed by the more interesting and less comforting thought that the same could be said to be true for anyone else right before they were blown up. This led to some wondering if other victims of sudden bombings were considering whether they were about to become victims right before they did. Of course, some people have sure knowledge that they are in danger, but I was curious if someone else had been reassuring themselves that this sort of thing was terribly unlikely to occur to them at this specific moment, right before it actually occurred. An interesting exercise in imagination, and all I have to say about this experience.

The next big fear I experienced was caused by turbulence taking off in Denver. There had been a little rough air on our descent, but nothing compared to the shaking we experienced on the way out. I felt something different between the abstract recognition that the aircraft was being shaken quite powerfully, and the visceral response that I had to my falling sensation being activated repeatedly. The involuntary terror of this experience led me to wonder if I could keep my composure in a panicked situation. Setting aside the fact that I think calm produces better results than panic, even if there were no way for me to affect my demise, I should prefer to end my life in quiet reflection, rather than mindless terror. This is one of the reasons I try to look out the window as I land, as last experiences go, soaring over the ground does not seem like a terrible one.

And, after all the fear was released, there still was hope left at the bottom of my heart. At the Beaverton library, a beautiful structure by the way, I was quite upset to discover the Wi-Fi required an ID and password to access. Their gorgeous facility turned mocking in my mind if they were the first library I had ever encountered to limit free use of the Internet thusly. However, when I resorted to asking directions to Powell's bookstore, the destination I was trying to look up, I noticed a list of usernames and passwords for guests to use on the desk. This library, like all the others I had visited, did have Internet, for free, for anyone who cared to partake. As I walked away from that lovely building, it occurred to me that we build these places in so many of our cities and towns. Places where people give away books and information for free to those so inclined to make use of them responsibly. Public libraries were already a place that held great emotional meaning to me, and this seems a good reason to add more. This seems like something worth inspiring a little hope for us poor, frightened, lost humans.


Tim said...

This is a fantastic post. I think that not addressing hidden racisms or whatever you want to call them is a huge problem. I know that my mind immediately leaps to the most relevant stereotype whenever I meet a person; it is the block of wood from which I carve my impression of them.

In our culture, I feel that it is not generally accepted to admit to these secret, subconsciously rooted racisms, even though I suspect that the vast majority of people have them. If we all simply confessed that we had them, would we be better off? I believe so, because our denial of them is an obstacle to dealing with them.

Again, great stuff, I really enjoyed this one.

Kenny. said...

I think that we cannot be condemned for the thought we have, for they are out of our control. We can be condemned for how we act on those thoughts, at least that's how I've always looked at things. I don't think that they need to be made public, only that you should weigh any stereotypes that may have been used to form them.

On another note, I think that all people should be viewed as a potential threat, so having people set that off doesn't bother me so much as realizing how often I don't view people that way.

Nathan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nathan said...

Well written Kenny. It is reassuring to hear this view from a person who I respect as being temperate in opinion of others, as I strive with large effort to be non-offensive, yet face the internal struggle of dealing with similar opinion and stereotype. I agree that we should be condemned for how we act on our thoughts, rather than the thoughts themselves. However, it is fear of offending others, and the expected subsequent change in peoples perceptions of myself that keeps me in the dark and unfortunately stifles what could be an enlightening and open discourse with others on the subject. Thank you for sharing.

Kenny said...

Uh oh. Thanks for all the encouragement, but now I'm afraid I'll feel as though the bar for my content has been set higher. Although, being set initially at zero makes that less impressive than it may sound.

I too agree with Kenny that we ought not be condemned for having such thoughts, however, I do believe that such thoughts should receive moral disapproval, because just having them changes how we behave because of them, whether we try to avoid it or not.