I’ve had a phobia of trains since I was little. I grew up in a house near train tracks, and when the horn went off late at night, it scared me enough to wet the bed. But subways are worse – they’re underground (so no easy escape), there are no bathrooms, they can be filled with creepy people (I watch a lot of Law and Order), they make me claustrophobic.
Which brings me, naturally, to claustrophobia: I hate elevators, airplanes (actually, claustrophobia is the least of my issues with airplanes), being sandwiched in large crowds, being hugged tightly by strangers. Not having enough personal space reminds me of being trapped under the weight of a person who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.
Which brings me to yet another fear: people who make sexist, racist, and other discriminatory jokes and comments, and don’t understand why they are hurtful. I fear the casualties of willful ignorance.
But the kinds of people who terrify me most are extremists of any kind: liberal, conservative, religious fundamentalist, anti-theist, whatever. In a way, I envy the certainty they have; their confidence that the world functions exactly the way they think it does, and anyone who doesn’t see it that way is stupid.
Granted, I can be that way too: I think it’s painfully obvious that women can be gifted with leadership and might just be better at it than some men. I think it’s painfully apparent that no one “asks” to get raped; that legalizing gay marriage is not the gateway to legalizing relationships with children, cats, or anyone/anything incapable of consenting. Among many other things.
Experiences have the power to shape us more than anything else – I firmly believe this. Some experiences can’t help but influence you: ask any solider, teacher, medical professional, or crime victim. And no amount of research and head knowledge can make you understand if you haven’t experienced it yourself – whatever “it” may be.
I know, because I used to judge women who stayed in abusive relationships until I became one of those women.
I know, because I thought all Christians had bigoted agendas until I became one.
I am terrified of people who are completely closed off to learning anything new; who are afraid of being challenged, and will never admit that it’s because their beliefs are too shallow to handle the slightest amount of dissention. So they lobby to pass laws that could force everyone to act their way – it’s easier than trying to understand the unfamiliar. I find it inconceivable that someone who thinks for themselves can be so intimidating to some people.
I am terrified of those whose certainty closes their minds so tightly that no amount of compassion or empathy can slip through.
I fear that once you lose that, you lose everything.