What Would I Do If I Wasn’t Afraid? – OpEd


By Sallamah Aliah

How do I relate to conflict? I tend to either challenge or avoid it. But, today I search and struggle for an alternative. To retaliate or avoid the truth creates more discomfort in my own life and for those around me. To challenge my default, I must work hard to acknowledge the conflict and take responsibility for my own actions. My professor once asked our class to contemplate the question: “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?” The answers to this question never stop coming. This question challenges me, however slowly, to see what role fear plays in my life. Fear of failure, violence, rejection, but most importantly how my perceptions, filtered through fear create the world in which I live and consequently the actions I take or don’t based on this view.

My involvement with Voices for Creative Nonviolence provides me with the container to begin facing that fear, in community, with supportive people, who have become my friends. When I first came to Voices in June 2011, I aired my dirty laundry: “I watch crime shows and basketball; I don’t listen to or read the news with only a few exceptions.” I was greeted with smiles and open arms.

I am slowly recognizing just how accountable I am for the violence around me, an accountability that must be present in my personal and social life, extending to the global community of which I am a part.
Conflict defined by Merriam-Webster, “Competitive or opposing action of incompatibles: antagonistic state or action.” I am often uncomfortable with conflict but I must become more tolerant to opposition because disagreement is not in and of itself a bad thing, in fact, it is a tool. When I hear other’s thoughts and feelings that are different than my own, it helps me reflect on what I believe. However disconcerting at times, one of the most valuable lessons I have learned at Voices is to begin taking ownership of my values, finding the courage and knowledge to put walk into the talk.

Recently, I was on-line with a young man living in Kabul. The conversation came after a recent attack on the city. Having this conversation brought my heart right to the surface and the attacks immediately became more real. And while I was concerned for his safety he was wishing me happiness.

For most of my life, guilt was the first emotion that would arise when I heard of people living in poverty and violent conditions, either here in Chicago or in Afghanistan or anywhere else. I felt paralyzed to take action and blamed myself for having such a great life. But in reality, I struggle too. And the idea that I can’t do anything to help comes from my fear to help. I tend to fear that involving myself in efforts to alleviate or prevent violence would infringe on my options for living happily or comfortably. It’s tempting to look away from violence or pretend not to know or care about wars and other violent forms of abuse. But, in actuality, living my life in a way that involves me in campaigns for truth and justice doesn’t take away from my life; it adds to it.

Here at Voices I have learned a lot more about violence in our world. Even though I was born in Beirut, Lebanon during the civil war in 1978, I moved to Indiana when I was 2. I have been distantly aware of war and its effects, but if I am being honest, I couldn’t be more removed. For example, if someone approached me on the street and asked me for money to support the U.S. war efforts I would say no. But, according to the Cost of War Calculator during the tax year of 2011 I paid $913.00 for the Afghanistan war and other military spending. This I would not have known had I not found VCNV. There are many ways that I am responsible for the violent world I am a part of, and I am only beginning to understand the magnitude. But if I approach this new awareness with my old way of thinking—feelings of fear and guilt—I shall never make the changes necessary to heal myself and the world.

Desmond Tutu states, “Forgiving and being reconciled to our enemies or our loved ones are not about pretending that things are other than they are. It is not about patting one another on the back and turning a blind eye to the wrong. True reconciliation exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the hurt, the truth. It could even sometimes make things worse. It is a risky undertaking but in the end it is worthwhile, because in the end only an honest confrontation with reality can bring real healing. Superficial reconciliation can bring only superficial healing.”


VCNV, or Voices for Creative Nonviolence, has deep, long-standing roots in active nonviolent resistance to U.S. war-making. Begun in the summer of 2005, Voices draws upon the experiences of those who challenged the brutal economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and U.N. against the Iraqi people between 1990 and 2003.

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