The phrase “paralyzed by fear” is often used to describe a person or a group of people who can’t act or are too scared to take necessary steps to move forward.
But in my experience, fear is much more commonly a motivating factor than a restricting one. Fear can cause people to do terrible things that can hurt others, but it can also inspire people — even large groups of people — to find strength they didn’t know they had to act in bold and brave ways to solve problems, and even to join hands with someone they may not have viewed as a friend but for the fact that they are motivated by this overwhelming emotion.
Fear or uncertainty has been the impetus behind million-man (or woman) marches, lifesaving heroics, and collaboration between unlikely or competing entities. Two sparring companies or individuals will band together quickly for strength if they face a common existential threat, proving that a “common enemy” is a powerful uniting factor.
So what is the difference between paralyzing fear and motivating fear?
I believe it is hope.
If you are afraid and believe there is no way out, or no way past whatever it is that is holding you back, then you can’t possibly see taking action as anything but negative. But if there is even a glimmer of hope that the next step, or the reaching out of your hand, will create a spark, give you strength, or help someone else (or even yourself), then that hope can be a driving force that knows no limits. While fear is the match that lights the fire, hope is the fuel that keeps it burning, long past what any of us may have thought possible. Hope can bring people together in service of a cause in ways that nothing else can.
Almost two weeks ago, I was part of a powerful gathering inspired by hope, and it made me think that there must be a way to harness this positive motivation to create change that doesn’t start or end with fear.
On November 11-12, I had the distinct honor of attending the Day School Investor Summit hosted by Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools in Bal Harbour, Florida. Had this meeting taken place a year ago, or five years ago, I likely would have attended as a day school donor or lay leader. I have been blessed, however, to merge my passion for Jewish education and my experience and training in communications in a professional role as senior director of marketing and communications for Prizmah, so I was able to attend this summit as one of the organizers.
This position — as a communications professional as well as an event organizer and facilitator — not only allowed me a unique perspective into the complicated logistics of pulling off such an event, but also shed light on the power that comes from a group of deeply invested, creatively inspired, hopeful people who want to make change.
These people did not come together out of fear. They came to inspire and take action, because, as philanthropists who share an intense passion for Jewish day schools, they know that collaboration and hope can change the world for the better for our children. This group was both inspired by the gathering and inspiring to their peers, and there is no doubt that the next months and years will unveil great and positive changes for Jewish day schools in North America because of their ability to see past their differences and join hands to bolster their capacity to affect positive, transformative change.
I left Florida hopeful not only about Jewish day schools, but about humanity. It may seem extreme to say that I have a vision for a better world based on a gathering of 100 plus Jewish philanthropists, but for the first time I saw how hope, and not just fear or a common enemy, can unify people who have diverse and sometimes conflicting perspectives. I was inspired by the group’s ability to find common ground in service of the vision of a better future, and I look forward to seeing how this gathering of creative, dedicated, and thoughtful people will work to solve problems for the benefit of all of our children.
Famously, Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” I am humbled to have witnessed the beginning of such change, and I am hopeful that more groups of activists or passionate individuals will be inspired by hope so that fear is unnecessary, even as a spark.
I believe that we can all find this spark, this motivation, to move forward toward positive change and join hands not only to avert crisis, but for strength and peace.