Perhaps analogous to Thoreau’s adage that “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” is something like “inner city-dwellers live in varying levels of constant fear.”
I say this as someone who recently moved to a pretty rough neighborhood in Winnipeg, where the fearful whispers of people who find out that we live in “that neighborhood” constantly drift behind our back. These whispers are not without warrant, as an incident experienced by a friend of ours painfully illustrated.
And yet, I wonder if the premium we normally place on physical safety is all it’s cracked up to be. Is a sense of safety (which I think is an attempt to deny that we will in fact die one day) really something that trumps every other consideration? Is this a question that can even seriously be asked in a culture of plastic surgery, gated communities and seniors’ homes (which keep these dying people nicely out of sight)?
Obviously, I would say no. I would be so bold as to say that I would rather deal with the possibility of some physical danger (overblown as it is) than with the soul-destroying effects of living in the suburbs. This isn’t to minimize the very real physical trauma that can occur in rougher neighborhoods, but these are places where the ephemeral concerns of our society get stripped away; where we can begin to better see what is (and isn’t) important in life. Instead of the suburban rat race where you say, “I am inferior to the Joneses,” you might have the same amount of stuff (or less) and say “I have too much, and there are so many I can give to. Oh, and maybe I should consume less too.”
And of course, as one who follows Christ, I can think of no other path to follow than the narrow one, the one that goes against the societal grain and puts me in contact with uncomfortable situations which cause me to realize that 1) I really do need God (in more than an abstract cerebral manner) and 2) other people need God too.
So, fear is perhaps best understood as an indicator of your core values; of what you think is most important and are therefore afraid of losing. And I’m much more afraid of losing my soul in the suburbs than the potential violence of the West End.