Channeling Our Fears Into Opportunities

by Representative Aimee Berger-Girvalo

Raise your hand if you spent 2020 feeling considerably more afraid than most years. For the record, this author has her hand in the air. Certainly, much of our collective fear was justified — pandemics are scary things. And just as we’re unique in our experiences, our fears run a spectrum of worry. We all dreaded getting sick, or watching a loved one suffer. But many of us were anxious about losing our ability or opportunity to work, feed our families and keep our homes. Some worried for our children’s educational and social opportunities. Many even experienced the trepidation of permanently running out of toilet paper! And while that last bit may come off as flippant, it was certainly on the very long list of worries that kept me up at night. Look, 2020 was hard for us all, for a variety of reasons. It’s important to acknowledge that.

But we make our impact by what we do when faced with our worst fears. Fear is a natural, instinctual reaction that alerts us to potential dangers. But fear should be viewed only as a signal, not as an end in itself. It is only helpful if it triggers us to employ our best energies, abilities, reason, and compassion to safeguard our community, our nation, and our world, and to secure improved outcomes for the greatest possible number. FDR told us the only thing to fear is fear itself, and by that he meant we should fear our own irrational reactions to events that either paralyze us into inaction or that drive us unthinkingly to reckless, dangerous, or immoral actions.

There are a lot of tough decisions ahead of us here in Connecticut. We have to preserve our health and safety, hold onto our small businesses, provide an equitable education for all of our kids — all while digging out from the rubble of a pandemic. To move forward, even in the face of what frightens us, we must distinguish between rational/moral and irrational/immoral fears. It is rational/moral to fear the pandemic. However, it is irrational/immoral to view the pandemic as a political plot. It is rational/moral to fear institutional voter suppression based on decades of documented and statistically validated evidence, but irrational/immoral to fear-monger about voter fraud, for which no evidence can be confirmed. And it is rational/moral to fear and fight against extensively documented abusive and racist practices in policing, but immoral/irrational to insist that protests against such practices and calls for minimally decent reforms are “anti-police” or “anti-white.” 

I’m always hesitant to set resolutions for a new year that are, frankly, usually forgotten before the end of January. But I do make a habit of setting new goals. My goal for 2021 is to recognize my fears as signals of potential dangers — and to identify possible irrational reactions to those differences or changes that may not be dangerous at all, but might be opportunities for bettering our world. 

Aimee Berger-Girvalo, the member of the Connecticut House of Representatives for the 111th district, represents most of Ridgefield in the state legislature.