Sunday, November 1, 2020

Facing the Fear

            I started writing blog posts in 2008, and never have I written so few in a calendar year. Of course, 2020 has been no ordinary year. The past eight months have been extraordinarily difficult for so many of us, for many reasons. There are the personal struggles we may be experiencing, and then of course there are the shared crises – the pandemic, our economy, our environment, U.S. race relations, and our election process, to name a few. For so many of us, it has felt at times like more than we can bear.

            Most of the blogs I’ve written have turned toward the better angels of our nature and the silver linings amid struggle. My worldview still trends toward hope, and I trust it always will. But in such a brutal year, it’s fair to ask if people are really in the market for rose-colored glasses. And in a time of unrelenting messaging, it’s fair to ask if anyone wants to read yet another point of view.

At home and at my school, I have specific work to do, and I strive to do that work in ways that support others. You don’t need a run-down of what an assistant principal does when trying to help lead a school through hybrid learning; it’s likely the educational equivalent of what so many of us are doing right now – taking all possible steps to help others navigate the unknown.

            There is an understandable fear this week regarding the nationwide response to our election results. I have no specific prediction for this, and I’d be lying if I said I was unafraid. We hold our collective breaths and wait.

            I look for historical perspective and think to the 1930s, when our country tried to balance an economic depression with an environmental catastrophe, vicious domestic racism and the rise of European fascism. I think to the late 1960s, when the U.S. endured brutal racial conflicts, a divisive war in Southeast Asia, crippling assassinations of our leaders and a consequential election.

            I also try to think of times when things swung in the opposite direction. I recall February 1990, when there were so many examples of positive news around the world that I started cutting out headlines and taping them to my dorm-room wall. At one point, the Soviet Union’s Communist Party voted to hold multiparty elections, Germany agreed to reunite, and Nelson Mandela was freed from prison – all in the same week.

            In my lifetime, Mandela has probably been the most inspirational figure the world has seen. He spent 18 years in a prison cell with no bed or plumbing. He did hard labor, was allowed one half-hour visit per year, and could only write a letter every six months. Even still, he led his fellow inmates in civil disobedience and remained the respected leader of South African’s anti-apartheid movement.

This man dealt with more crises than he had any reason to bear, and he emerged as a transformational leader in his nation and in our world. So as one who experienced the fear and made his way out of the darkness and into the light, perhaps this blog should end with Mandela’s words.

“I learned,” Mandela wrote, “that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

And as for hope? Mandela had words for us here as well. “I am fundamentally an optimist,” he wrote. “Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair.

“That way lays defeat and death.”