Have you ever heard the phrase 'that person looks at the world with rose colored glasses' ? That phrase recognizes that what you believe and how you see the world affects how you behave. It's good to know what color glasses you have on, because it really matters... the kind of glasses you wear are likely to be the same prescription glasses that your kids will wear, for one thing. Children, and those people you care about who are around you, might not listen to your advice, but they will certainly watch and copy what you do. They will pick up on what you value by what you spend your time, and attention with.
Fear is a mind-killer. Ever heard that? How about 'we have nothing to fear but fear itself' ? Ok, but did you ever pause to consider that they might actually be on to something? Consider what we believe and what we fear, and how it shapes the way we look at things:
though I walk though the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear not, for Thou art with me
Hellfire and Damnation?
Remember Jesus' Golden Rule? Okay, but we bet you never heard of the 'leaden rule of the unconscious' which goes 'do unto others as happened unto me.' And that's the attitude that needs to be transcended... Fear of the wrath of an angry God can lead us to respond to our neighbors, not in love and a helping hand, but with shame-based exclusion and judgment. How can someone who hates themself and lives trembling in fear of consequences (or cravenly gathering brownie points in some far off afterlife) treat anyone else authentically well? And if I feel I'm full of sin, judged by God, ready to burn in hellfire and damnation, how will that help me be more comfortable in our own skins and with others? Would it at least be more helpful to start talking about woundedness or brokenness, or that feeling of being incomplete and wanting to get back to God? Jesus died bringing us a radically nonviolent and loving God, and our whole relationship with God as the angry or unforgiving parent needs to be reimagined... or we can't get to that Golden Rule.
Fear the World's Too Far Gone?
Afraid the world's beyond repair? Then it'd make sense to be in denial about the suffering, the hungry and homeless and cold or downtrodden. If you close the eyes of your heart to a nonviolent message of love and healing, it'd be just too scary to look at the broken world around, especially because of how precarious and alone you might feel. It would make sense to deny seeing any slippery slopes and precipices — denial needs to work overtime to mask fear and hopelessness.
Fear of the Personal Cost?
Whether or not we believe in anything beyond this world, if looking at the pain and suffering might hurt our hearts, or make us 'share our toys' we might want to deny it instead. That's what psychologists mean when they throw around terms like "reaction formation" to describe a sort of knee-jerk reaction blaming others for their problems, to protect our egos against damage. It's really scary to think we might have some sort of responsibility here. What's to gain by sharing our toys, personally, from lifting up a stranger, if all we have is utilitarian values?
Fear in the Age of Aquarius?
New age (law of attraction) has a really creepy, hard-hearted sort of denial at its core... I'd better not look at that issue (or better not admit I might have cancer, or better not really consider that homeless person over there) because following the 'think-believe-receive' as I think, I may just receive, and it's just too scary to think of catching those sorts of scary bad vibes [eek - a poor person, I might catch homelessness vibes...].
Why do we idealize this outlook and think it's so cool, when it's so shallow? If you think some "greater force" is your personal genie in a bottle if you wish hard enough, as long as you see yourself driving that ferrari you'll get it in your driveway, then you're likely to turn your head really hard to the right if you see someone sitting on the street, hungry, on your left, especially because your thinking (*come on, think about it) implies that the person on the left should have thought themselves out of their jam, so it's their fault and in their own power to fix. A cold-hearted philosophy with you in the center of everything leaves you bereft if you ever are in need of something a little more substantive, like a warm heart and a helping hand.
How do we stop fear from poisoning our lives? Why not seek refuge in Jesus, the dharma and the sangha? Jesus showed his disregard for gender, class and social standing, and actively loved, healed, forgave and uplifted everywhere he traveled during his short three year ministry. His dharma teachings painted a new picture of a radically nonviolent, extravagantly loving and outrageously forgiving God. And his message can be summed up in 'fear not,' 'love and trust God with your heart and soul,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'
Jesus, a rabbi, would have of course studied the teachings of Torah on Tzedakah as an integral part of the spiritual journey -- to learn more, read our page on the great Maimonedes' teachings on Tzedakah. So Jesus talked often about caring for the poor and lifting people up. We've put together a handy little chart to explain a relationship between your belief and the way you behave.
EXPECTED REACTION TO ENCOUNTER WITH POVERTY