An Essay by David Terwilliger

Conversations that Matter Advisor, David Terwilliger, discusses Fear in this essay in response to recent Conversations that Matter Discussions on Gun Violence. He describes fear as a constraint to progress in our society and how it directs our political policy, community relations and decision making.


An Essay by David Terwilliger

As Essay by David Terwilliger


“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”

Mark Twain I have been largely an observer through the Conversations that Matter Discussions. I have listened to everyone’s ideas, thoughts and perspectives. I am here to observe, learn and contribute, hopefully realizing the answers to two questions that are foremost on my mind.


1. What is it about our society (now) that has caused so many outbreaks of extreme violent, senseless behavior? (Gun Violence) What is the force (or forces) that has changed our social fabric so dramatically?


2. What can we (ordinary citizens) do to reverse this trend in our society.

These two questions remain largely unanswered, but I do have some observations I would like to share.


From our discussions, I have noticed a common thread among all parties that are represented. Fear is the common denominator.


Fear for the safety of our children and grandchildren

Fear of the NRA as an inordinately powerful political organization

Fear of Conservatives

Fear of Liberals

Fear for our future as a nation

Fear that we may be voiceless and powerless to direct our own future

Fear of offending or being offended by the free expression of opinion among a diverse group of individuals.

Fear of things that we don't understand


I could list many more examples


I believe fear is the root of anger, rage, frustration, jealousy, helplessness and powerlessness. I think it can trigger the cycle of emotions that encompasses feelings of depression and worthlessness. (The child who is afraid to go to school, because of the bully who may humiliate him, may experience all the emotions listed above out of that fear.)


I believe our society suffers from chronic fear. I don't think it is an accident that a nation that has been living under the threat of terrorism, for the past 17 years, appears to be suffering an unprecedented level of mass violence in recent times. We hear more and more of mass shooting incidents, most often carried out by a disturbed white male.


Columbine occurred in April of 1999 well before 9/11/2001 Terror attacks, at that time it was an unthinkable act of violence upon innocent children. It opened the door to a method of recognition and expression of power by those who feel powerless. It was a major international news event. The perpetrators of that attack never knew the level of recognition they received from that act. Perhaps they imagined the grand scale of their notoriety, but in any case, they got to feel powerful, perhaps for the first time in their lives. Columbine was not the first mass shooting, but it was the first major mass shooting to receive immediate and worldwide 24-hour television coverage. Copied by others until, at some point, we reached a critical mass of such outrageous shootings, shifting the occurrence from unthinkable to almost commonplace throughout the entire span of this country.


Fear can cause the feelings of powerlessness that elicit a desperate desire to be (or feel) powerful. This is the roll of a weapon. It is the great equalizer. It is one reason firearms are so popular among men and women in our society. It will make the carrier of the weapon feel strong where they would otherwise feel weak or vulnerable. It offers a less personal defense than a sword of knife allowing for defense at a “safe” distance and it is a very powerful weapon.


Firearms are woven into the fabric of our American tapestry. They are tools, and as such, contributed greatly to the building of this nation. When used and cared for properly, they are tools that benefit society. But they are also the proverbial “double edged sword” with the potential to be used for great harm and destruction.

A firearm is the tool of choice for broken, powerless individuals who are suffering and depressed. A firearm is the most efficient and reliable tool for suicide because (if used most effectively i.e.; a head shot) it is immediate and painless. It makes suicide an option, even for those who would hesitate to hang or cut or drug themselves, because there is no consciousness beyond the trigger pull. No turning back or calling for help it is simply done instantly.


The hand of the individual controlling the firearm makes the difference between benefit and tragedy. Adults are responsible for controlling the firearm. Adults make the decisions regarding how a firearm is used, stored, and handled. When fear is the basis for those decisions, more often than not, they are poor decisions.


It is my opinion the paradigm shifting attacks of 9/11/2001 and the disastrous fear-based response to those attacks, that continues to impact our way of life to this day, set the stage for exactly the type of social breakdown we are witnessing today. We are a nation trying desperately to survive our self-inflicted wounds. It is noteworthy that the vast majority of us “knew” there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We went to war specifically for that reason, but it was untrue and we all got to feel the sting of deception or incompetence, on the part of our leadership. Perhaps the fear and awesome responsibility, our leaders felt, overwhelmed their ability to use reason and good judgment. Or perhaps they had other motives for the invasion and needed to sell the war to us in order to execute it. Perhaps the tidal wave of patriotism, or nationalism, that we experienced in the days, weeks and years following 9/11 impaired our judgment and objectivity. Either way, we all had to choose whether to trust our government again or not. It is no accident that, as many lose faith in our government (particularly at the national level), many feel they have lost their political voice and with it the ability to effect meaningful change throughout society.


In my opinion, chronic fear is at the root of our problems. We live in a capitalist free market system. When the market finds a lucrative commodity, it will be capitalized upon. Fear has become a commodity and is peddled in an extraordinarily lucrative market in Media, Security Services, Military industry, Privatized (for profit) Intelligence Services, Weapons Manufacturing, Insurance Industry, Legal and Medical Industries (particularly Drug manufacturers). All thrive on the fears of individual citizens. Governments (and/or politicians) reap tremendous (short term) rewards from a chronically terrorized citizenry. Never have we willingly given up so much of our freedom, in the name of security, for such an extended period of time.


Tragically, it appears to me, we are willingly giving away the very freedoms that young men and women are being sent in harm’s way to preserve. Politicians, many of whom have not personally known the horrors of war, are sending our young people to fight, die, become disfigured and psychologically decimated in the name of freedom and liberty. The same freedoms and liberties that we have so willingly given away in the name of security here at home.


It appears to now be common place to expect no sense of privacy in any form of electronic communication. Traveling without “papers” is impossible. We are a nation that has been on a war footing for over 17 years and yet there is no sense of material sacrifice and no budgeted expense or funding measures taken to account for the financial cost of executing our long wars. The citizenry in general is, by now, largely oblivious (consciously) to the fact that we are at war. But we are paying for these wars in ways we are only now beginning to realize.


Make no mistake war is costly. We are paying the highest prices in history for these wars. We are paying with the future of our children, our grand-children and several generations to come. We obliviously pass along the monetary costs through incomprehensible national debt levels and annually ballooning deficits that are equally incomprehensible to the human mind. Thousands of veterans are parenting the next generation while fighting the physical, psychological and emotional costs that are a result of these long (essentially never ending) wars. The very fabric of our national self-image has changed dramatically. We are leaving behind crumbling infrastructure, obscenely corrupt, yet legal, financial and business models, that have essentially produced a ruling class of untouchable mega corporations with no incentive to better society beyond perpetually increasing its ability to support them financially.


These giant financial and industrial corporate entities are essentially safe havens for contemporary “robber barons” who, under the protection of the corporate umbrella and intimate relationships with current and former members of local and national legislators, are essentially completely unaccountable for any and all destructive actions that are a result of their decisions. Many, as we have witnessed, are simply deemed too big to fail.


They run rampant thanks to the “legalized corruption” of our “representative democracy” we the people, who labor within the construct of both gigantic government and gigantic industry, find ourselves ever more powerless and impotent to effect meaningful change that is based on the tenants of good citizenship, honor, honesty, character and the best interest of the citizenry at large.


We are polarized and divided in our politics to the point that it is now commonplace to carefully choose our words, even when talking to close friends and family members, for fear of conflict resulting in isolation and fracturing of the basic relationships and family units. Who wants to ruin Thanksgiving with a family fist fight? Better to just shut up and pass the potatoes.


Obviously, these observations go far beyond the subject of firearms and safety. A firearm is nothing more than a very powerful tool. A tool that is too easily accessible to those who would miss-use it for personal gain, revenge, hatred or simply overwhelming fear. Access to firearms should be restricted to those who poses the wisdom that corresponds to the power of the weapon. Knowledge of the weapon is obviously needed, but wisdom is what guides the user to pull the trigger or refrain from pulling the trigger. When the power of the weapon exceeds the wisdom of the user disastrous results occur.


Wisdom is defined as “the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment.”


Fear does not thrive in an environment of wisdom.


Knowledge, Experience and Good Judgment are an antidote to fear.


How do we diminish the roll of fear in all segments of our society and create a better world for our children and grandchildren?


We must learn to instill wisdom in ourselves and others through education, positive experience, and the opportunity to acquire good judgment through failures and successes. This requires us to take active interest in our community. To look for opportunities to improve ourselves and pass those improvements on to others.

To deliberately engage those we do not agree with. To temper that engagement with respect, dignity, and a willingness to be “wrong” in our own way of thinking, if it will advance the chance of positive outcome for our community as a whole. To find and exploit our commonality and embrace our differences as food for thought for conversations that truly do matter.


Today, in our society, there are many powerful forces at odds with the goal of diminishing fear.


We must focus only on what we can truly impact. We live in Lexington Kentucky and that should be our focus.


I believe we must take a long look at ourselves. We all hold the potential to become victims, or even propagators, of fear.


We must become fearless or at least “Fear Less”. Recognize the thoughts that are rooted in fear in our own lives and examine the validity of the Fear and the resulting thoughts and actions they propagate.


Embrace acts of courage greet and small. Recognize the value of small acts of compassion or kindness. It costs nothing to great a stranger with a smile or a kind word.


Recognize fear-based emotions, actions and statements. (hate, anger, jealousy, envy, shouting, lashing out, crying, threatening, cursing, denigrating and condescending statements, sarcasm). Respond to these emotions, actions and statements with cognitive, deliberate, honest, respectful and loving actions and statements.

Speak and act within the context of knowledge, experience and good judgment.


Walk away from a fool without a word or action. Some will never respond to reason, love or wisdom. Don't waste breath or put yourself at risk of physical harm.


Our Group stands as a rock in the midst of “the drift”. The prevailing current surrounds us and will carry us away if we step off our solid foundation. We can be a place from which lifelines can be anchored and those caught in the drift, of a fear-based society, may come to find solid footing.


Fear is a liar and at every encounter we must call it out for what it is. We must reject our own fears and demonstrate the power of truth through love. We must become “fear-less” examples to all who encounter us. We must educate ourselves to meet lies with truth. Especially when that truth works against our own personal agenda. We cannot hide behind our own opinions and prejudices. We must develop and demonstrate character and credibility above all else. We must have thick skin, develop a habit of displaying a courage’s spirit.


None of this works if we are perceived as fraudulent or disingenuous. We must not develop a political persona or affiliate with politically based organizations. To do so would be selling our soul to the devil and it would spell the end of our social experiment.


The projects we choose to support or initiate will define who we are far more than our own declaration of who we are. We need to be very selective yet bold and unafraid to exercise our strength in truth and love for our community.


Weapon violence (Gun violence) any violence is a symptom of a larger “illness”. Just as War represents the failure of civil discourse. Violence within a community represents the failure of the community, city, or nation to adequately address its own ills.


Civilization (community) requires many of the same fundamentals as child rearing. There are many differing opinions on how to properly raise a child, but the commonality of love and caring are universal. This is true of the nurturing of a community as well, Love and Caring above all.








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