Confronting uncertainty with nonviolent resolve: Protesters gathered recently in support of immigrants who are at risk of having their legal status revoked by the Trump administration. – Photo by Oliver Douilery/TNS

Ask Lionel: Fearlessness in a Time of Fear

2018 Columnists February Health & Fitness Lionel Shockness

My 11-year old son’s school hosted a day of service on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January. Current events cast a shadow on the event. President Trump had just tweeted that the Dreamers program was “probably dead.” Immigration agents had launched new raids. I read a news story about a Latino father of three school-age children in Detroit who came to the U.S. at age 10 and was being deported after 30 years. Some of my son’s classmates are undoubtedly afraid their parents could be deported.
Families of color have reason to be uncertain and fearful. And that means everyone has reason to be on alert because, as Dr. King said: “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.”
Fear and uncertainty are being sown, but that does not mean we need to reap the rancid harvest. As a therapist, I’ve learned that it is through compassion that I begin to move from fear and uncertainty to looking opponents straight in the eye.
Compassion is called for because those who would undermine young lives, tear families apart or send people to violent countries are generally full of fear themselves. Their fear blinds them to America’s highest ideals, like the one inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Compassion is also called for because it helps people tap into the power of nonviolence. (Hate, on the other hand, helps people tap into violence.) The Civil Rights movement, with Ghandian nonviolence at its core, empowered millions of people to confront the vestiges of 400 years of chattel slavery and the domination of Jim Crow apartheid in the south. So clearly, a way to move away from fear and uncertainty is to get involved in nonviolent protest and resistance.
The real discomfort in uncertainty isn’t that something bad might happen. It’s the feeling of being disempowered and unable to get on with life, to change and improve your life.
A small book I use and recommend to understand those feelings is Comfortable with Uncertainty: 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion by Pema Chodron. Reading even two or three pages reminds me to be compassionate, nonviolent and involved.

Lionel Shockness is a psychotherapist. He will answer reader questions for this column on how to face life’s challenges. Send your questions to

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