We had an undeclared falling out over political differences a few years ago and have since edged back together. Barbara wants our connection to be like it was, before she started forwarding me emailed epitaphs about how the current President is taking down our country and freedom. I would have agreed with her before Obama was elected, but Barbara felt quite comfortable with the leadership back then and so I avoided all talk about policies. But then she sent me that stuff, and I responded.
In 2008 the tables turned. Now Barbara is afraid of government programs and I’m relieved some sanity is back in the White House. But I am not happy about Congress and the party to which Barbara and her husband belong. Still, I won’t discuss it with my sort-of-friends if I want to keep them as friends. They don’t bring it up either.
The bottom line: we’re both fearful of destructive changes. But we disagree about what those changes would be.
Barbara phoned me yesterday in hopes of getting more glue in place between us. She suggested a fabulous New York style deli she heard about. “But it’s in the bad part of LA,” she said. Not once, not twice, but three times she mentioned that we’d be going into the barrio and that it was scary and probably a little dangerous but the food was worth it.
“Maybe we shouldn’t take our cars,” she suggested. “We could take the light rail. The restaurant’s only a few blocks from the train stop. And they close at four. It’s a bad neighborhood after dark.”
And I’m thinking…wow, this deli must be some secret but sacred hole-in-the-wall that only the coolest people of LA know about. I’m in.
So Barbara tells me the name. “It’s called Langers, and they have a website.”
A website? A barrio greasy spoon with a website? Here’s Langers website.
Who knew! They Fed Ex pastrami! And they have curb service, in case you’re afraid to sprint from car door to front door.
Sure, the neighborhood is run down. No question about it. But is it scary? Not to me. I asked my wife. Scary? Not scary to her either. We lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan before it gentrified and cleaned away the garbage. Our bedroom window faced a Puerto Rican low rent apartment building twelve feet away. All summer long our neighbors played their favorite record, the only one they owned, a thousand times.
Those folks next door, they never hurt us. We were almost POOR. They WERE poor. And we shared the same street, markets, car exhausts and hot, humid days. Their building spoke Spanish, ours spoke everything else; a cluster of NYU students, elderly Jews, Italians, Romanians, Lithuanians, and one young aspiring filmmaker, me, and one overworked surgical nurse, my wife.
The folk singer, Judy Collins lived across the street in a much nicer building. That’s the way it is, or WAS, in New York. Everyone was crunched into the same space and prodded to meet each other just what we were – as PEOPLE.
But in LA, there’s plenty of space to separate Korea Town from China Town from Little Armenia from Japanese Village from Beverly Hills, where Barbara and her husband live.
What makes people afraid of other people? Are we taught that? Of course. But are we born that way, threatened by differences? Psychologists say, some of us are, some aren’t. Some of us grow out of fear. Some of us don’t. In my opinion, most people don’t. And although it’s natural to feel more comfortable inside our own groups, that’s not where innovation and evolution lives.
But here’s a more interesting question: Can we learn to fear LESS? Is fear a CHOICE?
What is FEAR anyway? In this case, it’s a heightened trepidation that someone else, especially someone different, will physically harm us or take something that’s ours.
And what would that something be?
That would be our life, our money, our job, our security, the value of our home, our CONTROL.
No one wants any of that depreciated. And we all deserve to protect ourselves from any potential loss. But how much of a loss is really in jeopardy? How much of what we fear is actually dangerous?
I pose these questions because I personally know people who hold onto their fears because they want to. They insist there are predators everywhere and they will seek all manner of “truth” to support their beliefs. And of course they find it. We all find the validation we need to defend our positions.
But why would anyone want to live in fear, stay in fear, constantly tense? Why must everything that’s different be menacing? Is that the way it is? I don’t think so and I’m still very much alive and well. And I don’t own a gun.
Here’s my take about choosing to believe we live in a dangerous world. I’m no pro psychologist, but I think many people want to keep the boundaries in place between Us and Them. Defining your tribe, who’s with you and who’s not, makes life simpler. There’s not that much figuring out to do, no time needed for agreements, no compromises to negotiate. The world becomes more certain, and in a sense more secure, even though you want an AK47 parked in the bedroom, just in case.
Much of this mental defense is subconscious. I think it’s part of the primal brain: What is different is threatening. ME FIRST is a means of primitive survival. Only when shared communal activities were delegated into specific skilled tasks did modern civilization begin to grow. And that demanded trust.
And THAT is what we’re losing: TRUST.
If I asked some of my neighbors why they don’t want Mexicans crossing our borders they’d tell me that Hispanics are Takers, not Givers (even though all studies show that our economy needs their labor to keep food, construction and hotel prices down.)
The Blacks are relieved somewhat. They moved up the social ladder one notch, just below the other minorities. Problem is, “White” people, of which I am one, are shrinking into a minority as well. That’s way too scary for too many people. So they buy more guns, their protection against those Others and the Government that allows them to HAVE the guns.
I don’t know if Barbara and her husband own AK47’s. I don’t think so. But I do know they feel safer in Beverly Hills than they will in Midtown LA where Langers World-Famous Pastrami waits for us.
I won’t tell them that the only place my wife was ever attacked and robbed was in Beverly Hills, a half block from where we lived.
We still don’t own a gun.
Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.