FEAR is a powerful human emotion usually induced by perceived danger or threat. It leads to physiological, behavioral, and biochemical changes such as fight or flight response to a threat. Fear is a warning signal; it alerts us to the presence of danger, it could also lead to a certain stimulus in the present moment or anticipation of a perceived threat in the future. Fear is a natural human behavior (rational), and it can also be irrational (phobia) based. Fear shows you are human, and we can witness it in different form as anxiety, worry, anger, envy, unhappiness, etc. We can either use fear to push us into greatness or destructiveness.
FEAR can be an illusion as American Author, and Speaker Zig Ziglar noted, “F-E-A-R: has two meanings: Forget Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rise. The choice is yours.” We have the choice to either make fear cripple us or motivate us into action. Fear can be used as a tool for good or a tool for evil. Fear can be commercialized, politicized, spiritualized, used as a weapon of emotional blackmail, or used as a tool to effect positive change. Former American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt implored Americans to face their greatest fear during the great depression. At the same time, Führer and Chancellor of the German Reich, Adolf Hitler, stocked the flame of fear against the jews and orchestrated the Holocaust – the genocide of about 6 million Jews and millions of others.
We are all born with two natural fears: The fear of noise and the fear of falling, every other fear we learned. We learned the fear of success, fear of judgment, fear of criticism, public speaking, fear of fear of failure, etc. Fear is the root of a lot of suffering, action, inaction, procrastination, commitment, or indiscipline.
“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.” – Jim Rohn
Most of our fears we learned while growing up through the influence of our environment, culture, religion, parents, teachers, and caregivers. The fears get handed to us as scripts; we get indoctrinated and domesticated with fear disguised as moral codes, religious dictums, rules, regulations, mental conditioning, and programming. The script gets handed from generation to generation, and we hardly question the root of the codes we live our life by. For example, your parents or caregivers might have told you things like “Money does not grow on the tree,” “You can not do that because you are black/female,” “You should/must not do so and so (Tyranny of Shoulds),” “You must attend a religious gathering, or you go to hellfire,” “You must go to school, or you would not make it in life.” A lot of these indoctrinations and scripts invariably determine our life choices such as religion, schooling, marriage, financial independence, child-rearing, self-worth, etc.
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was inaugurated as the 32nd president of the United States, the nation was in a gloomy and bad state. The United States was going through the great depression, which has been described as the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century. America had an employment rate of 23%, with 1 in 4 workers unemployed, 2 million Americans were homeless, crop prices fell below 60%, and the nation was in dire need of hope.
FDR in his inaugural speech tried to motivate his fellow countrymen to confront their fears. He started his speech with:
I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our Nation impels. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself–nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
Fear is a powerful force in our lives; we all feel it. If you are human, you are going to feel fear at some point in your life. The key is to feel the fear and do it anyway. One of the strongest fear in our life is the fear of death. Author John C. Maxwell, in his book “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions: Your Foundation for Successful Leadership,” writes: “I once saw an article in the Saturday Evening Post that talked about fear. It said that many”:
- People fear dying in a plane crash, yet the odds against that happening are 250,000 to one. A person is more likely to be kicked to death by a donkey than to die in a plane crash.
- People are also afraid of being murdered, yet a person is eight times more likely to die while playing a sport than to be shot by a stranger.
- People fear dying on the operating table during surgery, yet they are twenty times more likely to die in an automobile accident. At the same time, millions of people hope and pray they will win the lottery. The truth is that they are three times more likely to be struck by lightning.
- People’s fears and worries are often overblown. Many times they’re not based in reality. Yet these worries stop them from being productive and successful just the same.
In the 2012 movie, The Dark Knight Rises there is a scene in the movie that captures our innate fear of death:
Blind Prisoner: You do not fear death. You think this makes you strong. It makes you weak.
Bruce Wayne: Why?
Blind Prisoner: How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death.
Bruce Wayne: I do fear death. I fear dying in here, while my city burns, and there’s no one there to save it.
Blind Prisoner: Then make the climb.
Bruce Wayne: How?
Blind Prisoner: As the child did. Without the rope. Then fear will find you again.
It is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when; we are all going to DIE. The key is to make our mark while we are still here and not let the fear of death cripple us from taking action.
“In so far as one denies what is, one is possessed by what is not, the compulsions, the fantasies, the terrors that flock to fill the void.”— Ursula K. Le Guin
American naturalist and essayist Henry David Thoreau noted in his book Civil Disobedience and Other Essays:
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things..”
The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat. – Lily Tomlin
American Comedian Jim Carrey echoed the words of Thoreau in his 2014 Maharishi University of Management Commencement Speech:
Fear is going to be a player in your life, but you get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about the pathway to the future, but all there will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions we make in this moment, which are based on either love or fear. So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect. So we never dare to ask the universe for it. I’m saying I’m the proof that you can ask the universe for it. Please. And if it doesn’t happen for you right away, it’s only because the universe is so busy fulfilling my order. Party size.
So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect. So we never dare to ask the universe for it.
Many of us lead lives of quiet desperation as noted by Thoreau, we go to jobs we don’t enjoy, work for managers we despise, we are busy for busy sake, we equate motion for movement, we tolerate toxic behavior from our family and friends, we do not set healthy boundaries. We fail to follow our dreams, bliss, and intuition because of fear of the unknown, uncertainty or rocking the boat. We tiptoe towards our grave, living cautiously, scared of having the courage of living our truth. Like all other skills we learned in life, fear is an emotion we can also unlearn.
In The Science of Fear: How the Culture of Fear Manipulates Your Brain, Canadian Journalist Daniel Gardner, writes about the Commercialization and weaponization of Fear:
Politicians promote fear to win elections. Police departments and militaries do it to expand budgets and obtain new powers. And although we tend to think of public-service agencies and nongovernmental organizations as working entirely for the public good, they have vested interests just like every other organization—and many realize that fear is an excellent way to promote their issue, boost memberships and donations, and enhance political clout.
The opportunities for finding a fear, promoting it, and leveraging it to increase sales are limited only by imagination. And corporate marketers are very imaginative.
Lighting manufacturers talk up crime before revealing the good news that lighting is an effective way to defeat the dangers lurking in shadows. Companies that sell water filters like to mention the risk of getting cancer from chlorinated drinking water. The opportunities for finding a fear, promoting it, and leveraging it to increase sales are limited only by imagination. And corporate marketers are very imaginative.
It is not in the economic interests of a corporation selling pills to unhealthy people for people to be healthy, or rather—to be more precise—for them to perceive themselves to be healthy. Their actual physical state is irrelevant. What matters is whether someone believes there is something wrong that can be cured with a pill. If so, the corporation has a potential customer. If not, no sale. It doesn’t take an MBA to figure out what pharmaceutical companies need to do to expand their markets and boost sales.
“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”
Whenever you are scared of doing anything or making a decision you know needs to be made, ask yourself, “What am I terrified of?”. At the root of our suffering is our desire wanting our expectations to always align with reality. As American psychologist Tara Brach noted in her book – Radical Acceptance: Awakening the Love that Heals Fear and Shame:
Facing fear is a lifelong training in letting go of all we cling to—it is a training in how to die. We practice as we face our many daily fears—anxiety about performing well, insecurity around certain people, worries about our children, about our finances, about letting down people we love. Our capacity to meet the ongoing losses in life with Radical Acceptance grows with practice. In time we find that we can indeed handle fear, including that deepest fear of losing life itself.
Our willingness to face our fear frees us from trance and bestows on us the blessings of awareness. We let go of deeper and subtler layers of resistance until there is nothing left to resist at all, there is only awake and open awareness.
The key to getting anything worthwhile done is to feel the fear and do it anyway. You are scared of speaking in public, then start speaking in public, you are scared of writing, start writing in one form or the other, you are scared of what people would say, they are not really thinking about you, you are scared of failing, fail forward. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn. Life is not a bed of roses, we are all going to go through the tough times; the key is to not let success get into your head or let failure get into your heart.
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.