I like to live my life as consciously and as happily as I can. With the current state of the world, it is easy to get dismayed, overwhelmed, discouraged and afraid. The things we have to fear are very real: violence, hatred, scarcity and destruction. But amidst this chaos, I have found a very basic principle that helps me through every decision or difficult moment:
Do I choose fear or love?
By fear, I mean the emotion and all of its offspring: anxiety, hate, retaliation, humiliation, manipulation, destruction and control.
By love, I mean the emotion and all of its offspring: understanding, nurturing, support, reconciliation, hope, healing and letting go.
I have been hyper-sensitive to this distinction since becoming a mother for the first time 14 months ago. As soon as my son Joshua was born, I felt an overwhelming feeling of love, but also its feisty cousins of terror, anxiety and despair. Do you know how many ways a baby can be harmed, hurt and injured? Suddenly I was lying awake next to him checking to make sure he was still breathing. Was he getting enough milk? Was I, a family member or neighbor going to trip while holding him and drop him? As he started to crawl and walk, I worried about if he was going to fall and hit his head, find and eat a dangerous chemical somewhere in the house, get kidnapped by strangers or wander into an unattended swimming pool. I could go on for pages.
So I have a choice. Will I raise my son by fear or by love? I know that he senses when I am overcome by anxiety and hover over every step he takes. In fact, I am sure that he is more likely to get hurt if he feels that I am worried he will fall. So how can I raise him by love? I can create the safest environment possible, watch him carefully and let go of the rest. By spending too much time worrying about what could happen, I miss the wonderful things that are happening right in front of my eyes.
The same choice shows up in working situations. My husband is full-blooded Native American (Navajo) and is one of the very few business owner/operators in his field of heavy equipment excavation and grading. He works on large-scale development projects like building houses, roads, parking lots, etc. The majority of people on the job site are what he calls “old school” construction guys – most of them white men with a penchant for telling racist and dirty jokes. He has told me some of the things that they have said and done to him that make my hair stand on end. In addition to the names of “Tonto,” “Chief,” “Damn Indian” and others I cannot print in this PG-13 environment, he has had his equipment sabotaged, dirt poured in his oil tank, grease placed on the foothold where he climbs into the machine, and many other things.
But instead of turning angry and bitter, he chooses to act out of love. He clearly tells people racist comments are not OK, but he doesn’t swear back. He holds his head high, focuses on doing a good job for his clients and keeps going by his strong faith in himself and his belief in a higher power. Each morning he sings traditional prayers and sprinkles corn pollen on the ground where he and his coworkers will work. He prays for protection for every person on the job site, especially those that are hateful and angry. And the results are obvious. He kicks ass every day, outperforming other operators by as much as four times. He comes home satisfied and proud, and gives us lots of love and attention. There have been a number of instances where some former venom-spitting redneck co-workers have privately come to him in tears apologizing for their behavior after they watched him work for a few weeks.
There is nothing wrong with fear itself as it is a healthy way that we become aware of what we need to protect ourselves from. The key is to choose how you react to the fear.
So as you find yourself faced with a number of difficult decisions such as:
- Should I quit my job?
- How do I handle a nasty boss or co-worker?
- What should I do about my rebellious teenager?
- Should I spend a significant part of my savings on starting my own business?
- How can I save my fragile marriage?
Ask yourself the simple question: Do I choose fear or love?
When you act out of love, that which seems bitter, difficult and overwhelming can suddenly become open, flexible and malleable. Possibilities unfold and you are better able to solve problems creatively. We cannot control what happens to us, but we can control how we react. When given an option, I choose love every time.