One day on the battlefield, I looked up and realized I was fighting phantoms.
Before I go any further, I’m going to say this:
- I’m not going to apologize for being cautious around a person or situation that feels not-normal. I’m a woman and a mother, and God didn’t give me deeply-imbedded survival instincts just for kicks. I’m also a rational human being, so I can evaluate whether those instincts ring true or not; but meanwhile, if I feel uneasy, I will take precautions to keep myself and my children safe.
- Predators and terrorists are real dangers. That’s why they’re so frightening. The possibility of a zombie attack at the grocery store doesn’t make your throat close up with fear.
Two remarks recently revealed how hard I was fighting illusions.
The first was while I was having coffee with some other women. We were talking about what our kids enjoyed doing, and I lamented that I couldn’t let my children walk anywhere. “We live right off a highway and people drive fast. It’s just not safe.”
The others nodded, and one added, “And you never know what the Muslims will do.”
We were in a hipster coffee shop in a predominately white Christian town. In my middle-class suburban bubble, I hadn’t seen a non-white person all morning.
The second remark was in some discussion about transgender bathroom policies. Someone declared, “I work hard enough to keep my kids safe as it is, without this added risk!”
I’ve probably used a public bathroom with a transgendered person without knowing it. Still, I do think that we’d do well to acknowledge the risks of allowing predatory men easier access to women’s bathrooms. But I heard that comment and thought, “How many times have you had to defend your children against attackers this week?”
She would say, “Every minute of my day!” What she means is, “I’m on alert every minute of my day.” But as for actual attacks? In a typical week in my circle of friends, that would be zero.
What these two comments clarified for me was that I spend a lot of energy defending myself and my family against enemies who might be, but aren’t actually, attacking me. When I took a step back to see who my actual attackers are, I was stunned.
I’ve had a very good life, but not a perfect one. Throughout the years, people have hurt me. And that group of people—the one that I by all rights should be wary of now—has been
It makes sense. That’s who I am, and that’s who I associate with. If I were to guard against the actual “enemies” who have hurt me, I’d be cautious around smiling men in dark suits who teach toxic theology. I’d protect my children from manipulative women who just “want the best” for my family. Stories of terrorists and predators would concern me, but an ordinary guy who assumes I’m not as good as he is because I don’t think like he does—that should terrify me.
They don’t, though, because they’re known enemies. It’s the unknown that scares me.
It’s good to be aware of trends, movements, and dangers. As I said to begin with, I don’t apologize for being careful in situations that make me uneasy. But the thing about phantom enemies is that you never, ever beat them. They always come back. So I end up enslaved to fear, which makes me want to follow anyone who promises safety… which is often someone who preys on fear for his or her own selfish ends. And in my life, that’s almost invariably been a white middle-class heterosexual American Christianish kind of person.
Phantom enemies deliver us into the hands of real ones. And that’s really what should scare us most.
One thought on “Phantom Enemies”
Numbers and facts are generally a weak defense against being human and all our foibles, but you are exactly right about this difference in fear between things that actually hurt us and what we fear will hurt us.
More dangerous according to your gut reaction – terrorists or texting drivers? A relative sexually abusing your kids or a stranger grabbing them off the street? Horses or sharks?
All sorts of really cool science is out there about this sort of topic.