I talk to a lot of people these days who are very frightened about what’s going on in the world right now.
With almost daily reports of terror attacks and indiscriminate bombings and shootings, it seems there’s no safe place to hide.
Schools, nightclubs, shopping malls, vacation spots: terror can strike anywhere.
Bar the gates, lock the doors, hide the children.
Then there’s all of the ugly rhetoric emanating from the U.S. presidential election. Attacks on immigrants, on Muslims, on anyone who doesn’t look or think like us.
Close the borders. Put up walls. Retrench, retreat, isolate.
At times like these, it’s natural to want to go inward. To demonize. To heed the words of authoritarian figures who hold themselves up as alone having the answers.
Fear has a way of doing that. Fear is a monster that feeds on fear and all those other base emotions that trace back to the days when we crawled among the lizards.
Which is precisely why, at times like these, we must draw upon those higher-order qualities that human beings, alone of all the species, have been developing in the millions of years since we slithered out of the primordial soup.
Qualities like reason, hope, optimism, understanding, empathy, respect, and love.
At uncertain times like these, I think of one of my favorite tales of all time: J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
My kids and I are huge fans of The Lord of the Rings. Every year we hold a marathon weekend where we watch the three movies (extended versions) back to back.
In case you don’t know the story (are there people who don’t?), The Lord of the Rings is set in the mythical land of Middle-Earth where peace has reigned for years following the defeat of the Dark Lord Sauron.
But now dark clouds are brewing. To the east, in Mordor, Sauron and his armies are rising again, aiming to recapture the one ring of power that will give them dominion over the land.
It’s up to two little hobbits, aided by an unlikely fellowship of men, elves, and dwarves, to destroy the ring before Sauron gets to it.
Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings during World War II, at a time when the world was being threatened by a very real evil.
The Axis powers, still stinging from their defeat in World War I, had regrouped and were stronger than ever under a new charismatic figurehead.
Hitler and his allies were feeding on populist anger to advance their propaganda of hatred against a scapegoat enemy that they blamed for their troubles.
One of the truths taught by The Lord of the Rings is that evil is never entirely vanquished, because it dwells within the human soul.
Animals aren’t capable of evil. Fish aren’t capable of evil. Rocks aren’t capable of evil.
The capacity for evil rests solely and exclusively within people. As long as there are people on this earth, there will be evil. It comes and goes and when it goes, you can be sure it will come again, only in a different guise.
Fortunately, we human beings are also capable of great good, and the forces of good are eminently more powerful than those of evil, and will win out every time.
But we must always be on the alert, because just when we think evil is vanquished, Mordor is rising somewhere else within the human heart, wherever there is fear, bigotry, and ignorance.
So while we are horrified by the acts of terrorism and violence that we see today in our world, let us not be surprised.
The capacity for evil grows along with the capacity for good, and when we defeat these new forces of evil (which we will), they will rise again at some point in the future in a new, more dangerous form.
The question is not so much why are we seeing all this ugliness in the world, but how will we confront the evil forces that are plaguing our species?
One thing is for certain: we will not defeat them with the lizard-brain emotions that we see on display at Trump speeches and rallies.
Like attracts like, and every time we meet anger with anger, hatred with hatred, ugly with ugly … the fear monster only grows bigger and stronger.
In contrast to constrictive emotions like fear, hatred, and anger, our higher-order capacities are expansive in nature.
They seek to understand, not to judge; to join, not to divide; to include, not exclude; to build, not to destroy.
Higher-order capacities include warrior qualities like courage, determination, and fortitude. All of which we see in great spades among those little hobbits in The Lord of the Rings.
So let us meet the challenges of our day with those qualities that separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom.
Let us be steely in our resolve, steadfast in our purpose, clear-minded in our thinking.
Most important, let us not be silent. History has shown the perils of complacency when dangerous dictator types are whipping up the masses in nationalistic fervor.
We can’t allow that to happen. We must speak up – not in anger, not by stooping to the levels of those running rabid on lizard-brain emotions, but by summoning the better angels of our nature.
Long live Frodo!