Facing a brave new world with some empathy

By | Fri 28 Oct 2022

Fear is a basic and universal emotion. From the unbearable fear of death to the nonsensical fear of bright colours (the actor Billy Bob Thornton, of all people, has chromophobia, I once read). 

We all live alongside fear. When rational, it is our warning sign, an innate instinct for self preservation. Fear in this case is on our side. When irrational – like my chronic fear of flying – it can be debilitating. And bloody annoying. 

Like so many of you, I have had my fair share of fear over the past year or so – personal stuff – and looking back, as I emerge from its encompassing fog, I can see that it was often the fear itself that caused me such misery, that exacerbated my distress and affected my judgment, compounding my predicament into an endless loop of misery.

Looking at our country’s politics since the dawn of the millennium, it makes me wonder to what extent these symptoms  – riots, political arrests, mobs, coups, etc. – are caused by simple fear. Our old, and frayed, vision of a united and smiling nation under the all-encompassing benevolence of the monarchy, is no more of a realistic reflection of Thailand today than a faded postcard of girls riding bicycles and holding umbrellas represents the reality of our modern cityscape. 

Times, things, people, attitudes, the environment and our many challenges have, and continue to, evolve. This scares the heebie-jeebies out of some people. And while we huff and puff about the issues du jour, I can’t help but wonder whether we would all benefit from some serious self reflection (unless you happen to have spectrophobia, fear of one’s own reflection, in which case maybe you can avoid this exercise) and try to see how many of our outward signs of aggression and rage stem from simple fear.

The corrupt and the greedy fear insignificance or loss of face; the controlling fear powerlessness; the ignorant fear the unknown; the educated fear the ignorant; the haves fear having not and the have-nots fear forever not having. So we lash out. We fight and brawl and pitch tantrums.

While I’ve waded into the bog of political discourse from time to time, I find that I have mellowed over the years, realising that the shades and hues of politics are far more nuanced than black or white, yellow or red. The Other is therefore not my enemy and no longer something to fear…or at least that is what my rational side keeps insisting! 

While stubborn politicians refuse to budge or compromise, maybe it is up to us all to show them that we will embrace The Other, rather than fear it. Because frankly The Other is really just another. 

I read Thai Twitter and get so disheartened at the insults, threats, vulgarity and hatred people spew. 

Realistically I know that there is much to fear. There’s the existential threat of climate change on one end of the spectrum and any number of personal woes and worries on the other. In neither case can I do any more than fret and do whatever small bit I can to ward off the worst. So that’s what I’m doing. I’m allaying my own fears by attempting to mitigate the threats and challenges, however ineffectively. Because I’ve decided that it’s all in the mind and the attitude. As we open up to the world and to the many visitors to come, let’s stop worrying and be positive.

So boo to fear and let’s shoo in some empathy. It sounds much more sabai sabai.