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Our Current Tension with Risk and Fear

October 26, 2020

Here’s sound wisdom for you during these crazy opinion-driven times. If you're going to believe in everything you read, start with your Bible. "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity but of power, love, and sound judgment." 2Timothy 1:7. In other words, let's always be proactive and decisive, let's not demonize those who disagree with us, and let's be cautious when and where necessary, but never, never, ever, ever, be driven by raw fear. 

Recently, I read a FaceBook post from one of my friend's in Selangor, Malaysia. His name is Yew Chee Wai. I will write his post the way he wrote it, in Malaysian English. Malaysian English is what the Chinese Malaysians call 'Manglish.’ Why is it called ‘Manglish?’ It’s because they say they mangle English.

“Life of a Selangor Resident: Go out working, scare of Covid. Stay home, no work, scare no money. Go out eating, scare Covid fine of 1,000 Ringgit. Stay home eating, scare no water.” Evidentially, his town has a water shortage. And 1,000 Ringgit is a heap of money in Malaysia.

I think most of us can relate to Chee Wai. The Covid thing has us all guessing what to do – stuck with choosing the least bad of two adverse decisions. It’s frustrating. When things get like this, we get tense. For many, many people all over the world, it’s ‘stay home, no money.’ ‘No money, no pay home/rent payment.’ 'Kids stay home, kids depressed, bored, miss friends.’ ‘Kids go school, happier, can get Covid.'

Can you imagine what a restaurant owner deals with these days, never knowing when you will be closed or open? For restaurants, here’s the process in spoken in Manglish. ‘Stay closed, no money. No money, no employees. No employees, no service. No service, no customers. No sales, no money rent payment. No rent payment, no location, terrible credit report. Terrible credit report from bankruptcy, no money, bad credit.’ And this doesn’t consider the psychological effects on and collateral damage to the owners, employees, and their families.

Well, there you have it. Sometimes you’re darned if you do and darned if you don't. There is no decision that is a win-win for you. In life, there is always a tension between risk and reward, abundance and scarcity, offense or defense, pursuing vision or escaping loss, being proactive and reactive, faith or safety. There are times when you take ground and times when you hold ground. The problem with holding ground is that it is easy to slip from holding ground to losing ground.

We see the risk/safety issue in our current election cycle. Covid has one half of the nation anchored in fear of Covid, seeking safety. The other half of the nation thinks it’s worth the risk to get going again, but with caution. Each side interprets the Covid statistics through their lens of safety/loss or risk/reward. Each says they are "following the science.” Both sides have the medical experts and pundits lined up to verify their positions.

If you are safety orientated, perhaps even locking down our country, you most likely will vote for the candidate that is like you. If you are risk-orientated and want to avoid the possibility of locking down our country, you will most likely vote for the candidate that is like you. And because of ‘us/them,’ each side will most likely disdain the other side because “we are right, and they are wrong.” Sound familiar?

Why can’t it be both views are right…partially. Why can't it be both/and? Why does it seem like we embrace the either/or, win/lose, good/evil, us/them? Why does it need to be, "Me Tarzan, You Jane," or in today's world, "Me Jane, You Tarzan?" Why does it need to be extreme one way or the other? When we live on the harsh edges of the bell-shaped curve, no matter what we desire, it will never be enough for us, and we will demand others to be just as extreme as we are.

Have you ever heard of the “tyranny of the OR?” Jim Collins coined this phrase in his book, Built to Last. He studied the most successful and visionary businesses in the United States. Collins found that they learn how to embrace paradox rather than be limited by the worldview of either/or. Collins says the “tyranny of the OR” pushes people to believe that things must be either A or B, but not both.

Collins notes that most unsuccessful companies adopted an ‘either/or’ way of interpreting life and business. “These companies limited themselves, oppressed themselves, and then lost themselves.” Collins goes on to say that “highly successful, visionary companies liberated themselves with the ‘genius of the AND.’” The “genius of the AND” is the ability to embrace both extremes of several dimensions simultaneously. Instead of choosing between A or B, they figure out how to have both A and B.

For example, many thought quality cars could not be produced in large quantities. Toyota has learned how to combine high quantity and high quality at the same time. They sell a heap of quality cars. A business can have a purpose beyond profit and a pragmatic pursuit of profit. The same is valid for risk and safety. We can have both at the same time. Jesus was forward-thinking and forward-moving but was not afraid to use caution when the situation required caution. He embraced the paradox. That should be our stance also.

There is a difference between living in fear and living in caution. Caution is being careful when you’re doing something. Fear is not doing it at all. There comes a time when the consequences of fear-based living are far worse than the risk of pro-active living. Why? We lose momentum, we lose courage, and we get stuck. Dag Hammarskjold said, “It is when we all play safe that we create a world of utmost insecurity.”

Listen to the wisdom of Eddie Rickenbacker on fear-based living. “I have never liked to use the word ‘safe’ in connection with Eastern Airlines or the entire transportation field; I prefer the word ‘reliable.’ For whenever motion is involved, there can be no condition of absolute safety. The only time man is safe is when he is completely static, in a box underground.”

There will be Covid spikes and pauses for the next few years. There will always be a case of Covid somewhere in the world. Get used to it. Smart people are working on a vaccine and they will find it. But until they do, let’s not lockdown the whole United States or the world because of Covid or any other threat. That’s like burning down your own house to kill a rat. The genius of the ‘both/and’ says we can keep the country and economy going and we can learn how to cope with Covid, reasonably and rationally, until the vaccine is discovered. That’s big picture thinking.

That’s what real leaders do. They choose the battles they will fight, weighing the consequences of their actions against the importance of the issue. President Trump knew the significance of Covid, but he wasn’t going to lockdown the country because of Covid. There are other factors he had to consider also. And the consequences of locking down the country because of fear of Covid would create far greater consequences than Covid ever could.     

Here’s sound wisdom for you during these crazy opinion-driven times. If you're going to believe in everything you read, start with your Bible. "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity but of power, love, and sound judgment." 2Timothy 1:7. In other words, let's always be proactive and strong, let's not demonize those who disagree with us, and let's be cautious when and where necessary, but never, never, ever, ever, be driven by raw fear.

Someone once said, “You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.” Maybe we could say it the way a President did years ago in a crisis much bigger than our current crisis, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”   

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Ed Delph is a leader in church-community connections.
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