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Love, fear and the power of story

If I asked you what the opposite of love is, what would you answer?


The opposite of love, is actually fear; and fear is a massive driver in human behaviour. From our days roaming the Serengeti, it is fear that drove us to avoid predators to assure our survival. We established cognitive shortcuts like biases to make this process of avoiding death easier and quicker.

In today’s world, similarly, fear is what drives us to pull away from people unfamiliar and different to us, because it is deeply ingrained that what is unfamiliar could be a threat to our existence. Fear is what drives us to construct stereotypes and prejudices because it is easier to pigeon-hole people than to go out of our way to know them and risk opening ourselves up to new experiences and change; especially as there is no guarantee that it would not be an negative experience.

I have found that on several occasions, my life has been changed for the better by the least expected people; both men and women who I had instantly profiled and concluded to be “not my type of person”. A girl that I went to university with (and so essentially was forced to interact with) who I put down as being meek and insubstantial taught me that not all children are lucky enough like me to grow up in safe environment. Our relationship became testament to me that I should never judge; I can never know someone’s story from the outset. She also taught me the strength and resilience of people as she overcame her childhood traumas to become a lawyer, fighting for children’s rights. I wouldn’t say I was scared of her, but I had definitely judged from a place closer to fear, than to love.

As Marianne Williamson, the spiritual activist, says, “love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn”. Just last week at the Australian Logies Awards, Noni Hazlehurst was inducted into the Hall of Fame and in her speech that was widely applauded, she expressed how young children are “free and unafraid” and empathetic, before they are “conditioned” to be otherwise - “no child is born a bigot”.

Where have we learnt this fear, or at least, wariness, of people unfamiliar and different to us?

I believe that, for the most part, the answer lies in mainstream media. We are constantly hammered with negative news and news of shocking human behaviour. This news is almost always conveyed with some kind of angle to incite fear and hate. How many people take mainstream media for truth? I almost can’t blame them. After all, if the news tells me that it is one certain ethnic group that are causing all the trouble, I can take comfort in believing that I can almost guarantee my own safety by fearfully avoiding people of that ethnicity. However, mainstream media is not truth (in fact, some of it is borderline hate speech) and contrary to the saying “love is blind”, it’s fear that is blind.

When we are driven by fear, we prevent ourselves from seeing and celebrating the positives. We are blind to stories of the other side of human behaviour; of people uniting and helping one another and we cut ourselves off from potential human connections that can greatly enrich our lives. Even worse, we alienate those we fear, and alienation and loneliness can drive people to do horrible things, perpetuating this cycle of fear and hate and negativity.

Well, to borrow some words from Noni Hazlehurst’s amazing speech, it’s time that this “heavy and constant cloud of negativity” be lifted.

But how?

I think that we can unlearn fear and relearn love and we can do so simply through storytelling; through listening to other people’s stories as well as creating our own. Everyone has a story and every story is worth hearing and celebrating. I recently watched Maitree House’s video, “Our Journey”, where a group of twelve young Australians, all members of Multicultural Youth NT, created a musical documentary that showcases the resilience of people and celebrates the diversity of Darwin. These young Australians explain their journey to Darwin; some have lived here all their lives, others have fled tumultuous countries to settle in Australia. Yes, they are different in their family heritage and backgrounds, but they also share commonalities such as having some experience with stereotypes and racism in Darwin. By coming together, they turned their individual and different talents, such as singing, rapping and playing the violin, into a single, beautiful song. The song they write and perform is the perfect metaphor for the beauty that we can create, when we unite, despite our dissimilarities.

The opposite of love is fear and our world is oversaturated with fear-mongering, sensationalist media. But we can change this for ourselves and our loved ones, and in doing so, hopefully we can change our world, if we simply seek out the uplifting and inspiring stories of humanity and if we simply strive to always be welcome to human connections. As Maria Ramilo in the “Our Journey” video sings, “tell me who you are and where you’ve been, tell me what it’s like and what you’ve seen”. I think this one line has the power to switch us to understanding and appreciation, if not love, and away from fear.

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