Fear is one of the strongest emotions in the human brain, it resides deep in the prefrontal cortex and amygdala. It is what scientists call the brain’s hard wiring. Fear memories are primitive and primary and difficult to eradicate.
The seminal work of Dr. Elizabeth Phelps demonstrated that fear could be transmitted by watching violent acts on video, even if you didn’t experience or witness the acts themselves.
This is the situation we find ourselves in currently, where horrific acts of depravity committed by Hamas are broadcast around the world via internet and social media. It is too easy for us here in the U.S. to attach ourselves voyeuristically to the news, to experience fear and worry and anxiety by proxy.
This is not healthy, and it takes the place of more positive emotions that seat themselves in the same deep emotional centers, namely empathy, courage and compassion.
Inside Israel, where courage, commitment and focus are deeply needed right now, psychotherapist and licensed social worker Dr. Ayelet Shmuel, director of the International Resilience Center of Sderot, right by the Gaza border, shared some wisdom with me via email regarding the undermining role that voyeurism plays in this situation.
“In order for the Israel Defense Forces to be able to do what’s needed and win this war, the civilians, the communities must stay resilient. Due to the horrific crimes against humanity, and the horrible traumas and images that are now coming out, the psychological challenges are big.”
“The constant exposure coming from media coverage and social media platforms make these challenges even greater. Resilience is the KEY. Finding meaning, finding functional continuity, staying together and feeling a part of community, and seeing the uncertainty clearing up will help our country and our people to stay resilient through all this.”
Uncertainty breeds fear because it plays into the idea that you may not yet be free of danger. This is why securing a country’s borders are so important.
What can we do in the U.S.?
Shmuel is also right to point to the central need for resiliency, and we can certainly learn from this here in the U.S., where indoctrination and divisiveness and rigid adherence to political principles abound.
Listen to her wise words: be part of a community and look for meaning in your life. To this I would add focus on those you love and if you are a parent, provide certainty by being a role model for courage instead of fear. Fear erodes. Courage complements resiliency.
It is also important that we not obsess over media images, that we continue to work, to play, to feel empathy while providing support for our allies in Israel. They are isolated and they need us.
The political divisiveness and hatred will be misdirected against Israel by many anti-Semitic groups even as Israel struggles to ensure its survival. Our support in all ways, from military to emotional to financial to volunteering to going over there are all ways we can help.
Fox Corporation has donated $1 million to United Jewish Appeal. You can donate too.
My father, who is turning 100 years old this week, just asked me how he can donate too. He is a Navy veteran of WW II, and told me he is feeling great rage over what is happening in Israel.
But as usual, he added a word of wise caution. “I believe in revenge, but the problem is, they [Hamas] are animals, so revenge won’t work either.”
Stimulate your brain to feel the positive powerful human emotions that offset your primitive fear. Israel has experienced great cruelty. The way to counter it is with unwavering courage and kindness.