“Fear is isolating for those that fear. And I have come to believe that fear is a cruelty to those who are feared” (Biss 154). This statement, like so many of Biss’ revelations in Notes From No Man’s Land, gave me pause. Fear is isolating. Fear is cruel. And, as her cousin tells us, fear is violence.
Growing up is, in many ways, about facing your fears and overcoming them. Riding a bike is scary the first time you do it. So is sleeping over at a friend’s house. And going to college. We are afraid of what is unfamiliar. To accept these fears as absolute truths would be debilitating. We would never venture into the world or try new things. And yet, as adults, we allow our fears to become immutable. We become settled in our routines, comfortable in our circles of friends, and we stagnate. We cease to push the boundaries of our fears and we are instead penned-in by them. As Biss points out, “Fear is accepted…as a kind of intelligence” (157-158). It becomes prudent to be afraid.
I do not advise imprudence. There are real dangers in the world and caution is often necessary. But I wonder, with Biss, whether “insularity is a fair price to pay for safety” (154). I strongly suspect that it is not. Fear of people, especially fear of whole groups of people, demands that we avoid those people. It demands that we do not take the bus through a particular neighborhood. It demands that we carefully separate our homes from their homes, our schools from their schools. It demands that we do not make eye contact, or smile, or offer a helping hand. It demands that we treat other humans as less-than-human. It demands that we perpetuate age-old oppressions.
None of us lives without fears, but perhaps we can mitigate the damage they cause by examining them critically, by engaging them, and by growing out of them.
Biss, Eula. Notes From No Man’s Land. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2009. Print.