“Beauty and the Beast” is a fairly simple movie on its surface. Look deeper than someone’s outer beauty to find who they truly are. It falls a little short when we realize that the heroine is literally named ‘Beauty’ and the Beast turns into a handsome prince at the end. But, whatever. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Got it. There are some other lessons, though buried deeper in the film that often get overlooked. One of these is how easily Gaston manipulates the otherwise harmless villagers into a murderous mob.
In ‘The Mob Song’ there is a deeply hidden truth of human natures. “We don’t like what we don’t understand. In fact, it scares us.” It should come as no great surprise that this lyric was written by a HIV+ gay man in the early 90’s. At the time there was no group more demonized because of fear and a lack of understanding. Sadly, as we look around the world in which we live there is no lack of people who seem to be living live with this phrase as their guiding principle.
For me, the problem with the phrase is not in the truth of it. It is good to recognize not only our own lack of understanding, but our fear. When we realize that there is something we don’t know, we can educate ourselves. When we realize that we are afraid, we can take steps to overcome that fear. The problem arises when we start to believe that fear and lack of understanding are acceptable. When we, like the mob, are encouraged in those beliefs by someone who has something to gain or when we find comfort with like minded people and see no reason to change. That is dangerous behavior, not just for the people we direct it to, but to ourselves as well.
When we draw lines out of fear we don’t just close people out, we close ourselves in. We limit our range of experience. We stop growing as people. While we may be ‘safe’, we will not be challenged. We will never learn new things about ourselves or our world. We make ourselves smaller living inside the lines. Fear does not make us stronger.
I am not saying that fear is not sometimes an appropriate reaction. If someone walked into this coffee shop right now waving a gun, I would not first seek understanding and dialog. I would hide behind a couch and call 911. I would not hide behind a couch if someone in a turban, hoodie, or hijab sat down next to me. In fact, in the course of my life many and varied people have asked to sit next to me on buses and trains, in restaurants and parks. I must look ‘safe’ to a lot of people. I feel like it is my job to treat them with the same respect.
I want my world to be large, and colorful, and diverse. I want to live my life in understanding, not fear. I don’t like the things I don’t understand, but I want my first reaction to be curiosity not fear. I do not want to be part of the mob. I want to be an individual who agrees or disagrees with others but who always seeks to understand.