When the freshly elected President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, said in his inaugural speech, on March 4, 1933, “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses…,” he knew what he was talking about.
Fear is with us from the moment we are born. We will never be as comfortable again as we have been in the womb. When the contraction in our mother’s womb began, our fear was born too. So, we are born with fear since time immemorial. It is instinctive and is kept at bay by loving parents. A loving upbringing inoculates us somewhat against fear. But not wholly.
It is with us. It is lurking in the background all of our lives. Politicians and advertisers play on our fears. They tell us, if we don’t vote for them, catastrophe is upon us. If we don’t buy a certain product, we are left behind and missing out, the advertisers tell us.
And there is another group of people who play on our fears like they are playing an instrument; our religious leaders ! We fear death and even more what comes after death. Those leaders use this fear to make us comply with their vision of life. If you are a Christian you probably know that Jesus told you not to be fearful. But it doesn’t help because those leaders are not emphasising his message.
Buddhism tells us, “So much of our suffering—as individuals and as a society—is caused by fear.” It restricts and imprisons us.
We fear what we read about in newspapers. We fear our neighbours instead of loving them. We fear getting late to work, with all the consequences it entails. We fear missing out on the good things in life. We fear being left behind in the search for a good partner. And when we have a partner, we fear he or she could leave us. We fear being left on our own on a lonely railway platform and in life. We fear having too many children or non at all.
When we are good parents our children fear that we die or that they lose our love and they lose their urge to love us back. If we are bad parents they fear we will disown them and all our possessions will go to someone else.
Then there is the fear of being eaten by a shark or crocodile, stung to death by an insect, mauled by a dog, stalked by a tiger or wolf. Wolfs are reappearing everywhere in Europe. And so it goes. When a shark in his natural environment sees a human being it feels instinctively there is a fine, edible morsel. The news papers then, instead of explaining what has happened, start a campaign of fear and some people demand the shark to be killed or they could be the next victim. How irrational is this?
The fear of the future is so great because it is unknown and we don’t understand the past. This makes us extremely unhappy, worried and depressed. Not only do we fear the neighbour but also the neighbouring countries, people with other skin pigmentation or religion. That fear is also behind racism and xenophobia. We fear what we don’t know and fear what we do not understand. Travel to other countries is a great way to alley the fear of the others. On the stock market “smart” people bet on our fear of future shortages of oil or wheat. And they are getting rich and we slave away to pay the higher prizes. Our fear makes us poorer.
We fear we are too fat or too thin. We fear we won’t wear the right clothes and fall victims to fashion. In short, fear is dominating our lives. But what is it? Some unknown person called fear, “false evidence appearing as real”. How can we overcome fear if any action we could take is overtaken by the fear of failure.
Procrastination is a brake on change and only prolongs our fears. It is said we have courage if we are able to confront our fears. This is certainly true for a particular fear. For our fears generally we have to have hope in our life. This is the balance, I think.
Human beings are not solitary creatures. They function best in a close knit community; with people who love and understand each other. The closer you are to others the less fearful you are. United, we can cope with anything.
In the Isha Upanishad of Hindu Scripture they tell us,
“Who sees all beings in his own self, and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.”
This is good advice if only we could trust others.
Perhaps this is where Robert Ardrey’s “Amity / Enmity Complex” comes in. It says in a simple formula A=E+h that the combined forces of enmity and (life’s) hazards equal the amity we feel towards each other. We probably have all experienced this ourselves in times of war and natural calamities. Penguins come to mind as they all stand close together, exchanging places, under the onslaught of the extreme hazard of an Antarctic snow storm. Amity has survival value!
It also explains that in contemporary society, with relative prosperity, people have very little love for each other. The neighbour is no brother but a competitor and in the back of their minds FEAR is lurking.
In our current Australian political situation, where the enmity towards an unloved government, plus the hazard of their budgetary decisions lead to more amity among the citizens. This finds an expression in rallies and demonstration; and this with people they were competing with, just recently, for jobs and places for study. Now they fear they could lose their jobs or their place on the university. Fear is stalking the land.
Fear is just another hazard of life we have to cope with. The more knowledge we have the better we can cope with fear. I don’t think we can allay all fear all of the time, but we can lessen its impact. Western societies overcame the fear created by the Middle Ages with the Enlightenment. The struggle is ongoing and, still today, fear is dictating the events you see on today’s news.
Plato said, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”
Lets hope that people learn not to be afraid of the “light of knowledge” and that they are able to disperse their fears to the darkness where it belongs.