Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fear and Faith: Sort it Out

Setting aside Middlemarch last night, I started reading Alexander Mc Call Smith’s latest book in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective series, Tea Time for the Traditionally Built. Always a surprise to see what wisdom wends it way through this delightful story, a commentary on snakes bit me.

“They have their place, said the official [in a recent plea that people should refrain from doing anything about snakes unless they actually came into the house], and if there were no snakes, then there would be many more rats … That message, though, went against most people’s deepest instincts.”

Further, another paragraph applies to many of the anxiety-causing issues that confront people today, whether they live in Africa or America or on an island in the South Pacific.

            She looked up at her acacia tree. There could be a snake in the tree for all she knew; nature was full of snake-like shapes and colours—long, sinuous twigs and boughs, snake-coloured grass that moved in the wind just as a snake might move. Concealment was easy. So snakes could watch us silently, their tongues flickering in and out to pick up our scent, their tiny, pitch-black eyes bright with evil; they were there, but the best way to deal with snakes was not to deal with them—Mma Ramotswe was sure of that. If we left snakes alone, then they kept away from us. It was only when we intruded on their world that they bit us, and who could blame them for that? It was the same with life in general thought Mma Ramotswe. If we worried away at troublesome issues, we often only ended up making things worse. It was far better to let things sort themselves out.

Yes, many troublesome issues provoke our natural instinct to fear. Note that people who have lived at all times and in all places have faced threats to their safety, fears about their future and perils impossible to forestall.

No amount of vigilance and preparation can protect from every conceivable danger. Enemies real and imagined exist everywhere; many have “pitch-black eyes bright with evil.” 

I see a lot of issue-driven preparation for disaster, hand-wringing worry and social commentators who feed on the palpable anxiety of the populace. The sky is falling.

Buy guns and ammo? Stockpile food? Build a compound? Go Green!

Could it be that the convergence of economic, political, climate and now pandemic flu concerns have their place in human affairs even as snakes have their place in nature?

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