Look across Facebook and you can spot it—the virus that infects computer after computer. It’s passed from one person to the next through sharing a link or even liking a post.
The virus you may have caught and passed on through social media is fear. You see it in headlines across Facebook.
- 7 Surprising Foods That Will Give You Cancer … And Make You Fat
- Why This Politician Hates Puppies And Will Take Away All of Your Freedoms
- 10 Steps to Protect Your Child From Their Inevitable Kidnapping
- How You Will Lose All Your Money By Not Clicking This Link. No, Seriously, Click This Link!
A study of 100 top blogs found that headlines with violent words like “kill,” “dark,” “bleeding,” and yes, “fear,” get more social media shares. Headlines that focus on negative superlatives—like never or worst—are more effective than either headlines without superlatives or ones with positive words. We share negative stories cast in terms of what we should fear, but why is that?
Many share the stories out of a sense of concern for others. They want to warn their friends and family about a potential danger. Others feel the need (or calling) to be the one sounding the warning bell alerting everyone to unforeseen or unacknowledged problems. Often times, however, all the extra voices present an outsized, fear-based image of the actual situation.
Think about kidnappings. We hear of virtually every instance of a child being grabbed by a stranger. As a result, 50% of parents fear their child being kidnapped. Yet, out of more than 73 million children in the U.S., only 332 were abducted by a stranger last year (less than 0.00046%). That doesn’t mean we don’t take precautions to help prevent our child from being one of those who are taken, but we should acknowledge the small likelihood and refuse to allow the fear of kidnapping to rule the way we parent.
No one is intending to spread the virus of fear, but Facebook is like the preschool classroom of the Internet where we all pass germs around unaware. As soon as one coughs out a post on a fearful topic, another shares it and before you know it everyone has been exposed to another’s fear and it amplifies what was already present. Now, I’m not only afraid of the things I know about, I’m afraid of your fear as well.
Politics is an obvious example in which fear-driven, factually deficient posts spread like wildfire on social media before anyone has time to point out the truth. I’ve written about numerous examples, including one on Syrian refugees that continues to be relevant.
But while fear may garner Facebook likes and Twitter retweets, is it worth the cost to culture and ourselves? When we are driven purely by fear and a desire to remain “safe,” the shelters we construct keep out more than the dangerous, but also the exciting, the adventurous, and even the loving.
As someone who loved and lost, C.S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves about what we risk when we love, but also what we risk when we allow fear to trump love.
There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside of heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is hell.
The dwarves in The Last Battle are Lewis’ fictional representation of being trapped in a cage of their own fear. While they rightly reject the rule of someone posing as Aslan, when the real lion, the ruler of Narnia, shows up, they refuse to accept him. “We’ve been taken in once and now you expect us to be taken in the next minute. We’ve no more use for stories about Aslan, see!”
As they are literally surrounded by heaven, the dwarves only see squalor because their fear prevents them from seeing anything else. Aslan explains to his servants who wish to help the dwarves realize the truth:
They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own mind, yet they are in that prison, and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.
John reminds his children in the faith that the way to freedom is love. “There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love.” (1 John 4:18)
Love is the antidote to fear. It prevents the disease from spreading through your computer into your heart. A life full of love has no time for fear. It makes room for wisdom. It rightly deals with concerns. But not fear. Love and fear cannot inhabit the same place at the same time. Even if love brings with it more risks, it must win.
But, in fact, love has already won. On the cross, 2,000 years ago love destroyed the grip of fear. Our only question is whether we live in that victory or succumb to the sickness from which we have been healed. Fear is the virus that seeks to infect our hearts, but love is the antivirus. Not in some trite, bumper sticker way, but in a real, unshakeable way. You can spread the sickness or the cure. The choice is yours.