For most of us, fear is building.  We wonder what can be done, in an increasingly volatile world, to be safe. We talk about ‘border control’; ‘tough on crime’; ‘war on terror’. We talk about what the government should do, what the police and courts should do.  We talk about what others should do. But I’ve been wondering: what can each of us do, alone and together, to ease the volatility and make our lives, our communities and our nation safer?  And the answer seems to be: plenty. Most of the ideas revolve around 6 simple human dynamics.

 

Cycle of alienation

Cycle of alienation

1) Alienation

If I feel I that I don’t belong (as a valued person), I act like I don’t belong.  When I act like I don’t belong, others treat me like I don’t belong, and so I feel that I don’t belong…and on it goes, in a vicious circle that can increase both crime and fear. As an alienated person, then, I am more likely to do harm.

 

2) Broken Spirit;

If my human spirit has been broken, be it by childhood trauma or by public humiliation (such as homophobia or racism), or by chronic poverty, I will feel powerless, and will be more likely to hurt others, or to hurt myself. And then…see 1) and multiply it.

 

3) Poverty and Inequity

If I do not have the money or means to  consistently feed, house, educate and clothe myself and my loved ones,  and then see others getting far more than me, I am more likely to break rules and laws that seem, to me, to only protect others. And then…see 1) and 2), but multiply them.

 

4) Stereotyping

If I am part of an identifiable minority, and a few people in that minority cause damage, others might categorise me as part of that problem, and therefore treat me like I don’t belong. So the ‘cycle of alienation’ doesn’t just build for a person, it begins to affect a whole group.  Crazy people do horrible things ‘in the name of Islam’, and suddenly all Muslims are linked to that action. Some damaged young Aboriginal people abuse others on a train, and suddenly all Aboriginal people are seen as anti-social. And then…see 1) and 2), but multiply them.

 

5) Fear of difference

If I see different perspectives as a threat to my perspective, I might justify discrimination on the basis that others ‘should act like me/us’.  This can alienate someone who, for example, chooses to dress differently, or love differently, or follow different prophets. And then…see 1) and 2) and 3) and 4), but multiply them.

 

6) ‘Confirmation Bias’

As human beings, we tend to find or create facts to reinforce our feelings and beliefs, rather than vica versa.  It’s pretty normal. But when we believe false information that is designed to increase fear, (‘We’re being swamped by Muslims’; ‘terror attacks in the west are increasing’; ‘crime is increasing’), we are more likely to turn on each other in fear.  And then…see all of the above, but multiply them.

 

So what can we do?

These human and community dynamics are powerful. They’re also pretty simple. And the solutions—to crime, and violent extremism, and even suicide and self-harm—can be boiled down to this: we, each of us, need to work towards families, organisations, communities and a nation in which every person feels and acts like they belong, and like they are fully valued as who they are. That’s what can keep us safe. Each of us and all of us have a responsibility in that. It’s not something we can or should hand to governments or police.

So what might some key steps be, for us as community members,  in creating an environment of safety, rather than of fear and danger? Well here’s a few, drawn from over 30 years of experience in community development, and community relations.

 

1: Commit to Justice

a) We can agree, together, that we should all strive (within our families, our communities and our nation) to ensure that everyone is safe from emotional and physical harm.

b) We can agree, together, that we should strive (within our families, our communities and our nation) to ensure that everyone has the opportunity, and personal capacity, to live a fulfilling life.

c) In keeping with a) and b) we can agree, together to abide by our nation’s laws that are designed to protect others from harm or to maximise opportunities for all, and to change laws that do harm, or foster inequity.

 

Then, within this shared commitment to genuine justice:

 

2: Love our own culture, and embrace difference.

a) We can love and celebrate our own particular ‘place of belonging’; our culture; our community; our identity. Safe and confident in my own culture, I will not fear the culture of others.

b) We can commit to a society where everyone can find a safe ‘place of belonging’, (be that a safe family, a healthy religious community, a social group, or even a spiritual connection to the Universe). In this way, we minimise the risk of people being drawn to dangerous ‘places of belonging’, such as ISIS or white supremacist groups.

c) We can celebrate, rather than fear, difference, ensuring that everyone feels free to live fully as themselves; that their individual and cultural choices are honoured.

 

3: Challenge Fundamentalism.

Most worldviews—religions, philosophies, theories—have wisdom within them. What makes them dangerous is fundamentalism—the idea that ‘our truth is the whole truth’—and imposition—the idea that others should comply with our truth. So it will help if we challenge fundamentalism in all its forms. To do this…

a) We can stay interested in, and open to, the ideas and perspectives of others.

b) We can refuse to define any worldview (eg, nationalism, religion, capitalism) by its fundamentalists. Because that refusal disempowers the fundamentalists. Instead, we can understand that worldview by listening to its thoughtful, open, moderate adherents.

c) We can challenge and stand against fundamentalist thinking or expression (‘our truth is the whole truth’) within our own political, religious, philosophical groups and networks. And at the same time…

d) We can connect with and support the moderate, thoughtful adherents of other groups and networks, strengthening those adherents to pursue their own work of challenging fundamentalism.

 

4: Strive for equity

a) We can stand for policies that strive towards reasonably equitable income and wealth. (We can ignore fake economic arguments against equity.)

b) We can be generous. Of course, we should stand for our own right to economic security and to a life well-lived. But beyond that, we can be generous. It enhances our own life, and that of others.

 

5: Address crime effectively.

“Tough on Crime” policies are expensive and ineffective. They feed on, and feed, fear rather safety.

a) We can insist that our governments base crime reduction policies and practices on evidence, rather than perception; on facts rather than feeling.

b) We can agree, together, that we should prevent or reduce crime by repairing people, rather than damaging them. Because it actually works. (‘You can’t repair the cracked vase by smashing it’.)

 

6: See hope.

Australia is, overwhelmingly,  a vibrant, multi-cultural, harmonious, wealthy nation.  Some politicians and media personalities would have us believe otherwise; they would even have us do otherwise.  Let’s not.

That which we pay attention to, in ourselves and each other, we empower.  If we pay attention to the fear, the greed and the hostility within and between us, we will empower it. If we pay attention to the courage, the generosity and the connection within and between us, we will empower it.

There’s a nice acronym of H.O.P.E. Helping Other Possibilities Emerge.

Let’s.