a) A movie genre?
b) An instinctual reaction to a perceived threat?
c) A basis for political power?
d) The reason for religion?
e) all of the above.
“The only thing to fear,” the wise man said to the terrified populace, “is fear itself.” Indeed? Well, lets look and see what we can see.
When I was a small child, I knew fear as the monster (I just knew for sure) was hiding under my bed, and it would come out in the dark…I never stayed awake long enough to see what would happen if and when it did. But that early fear was like a pressure on my chest. It stole my voice, choked my breathing to a merest trickle. I wanted to escape but the fear held me to that spot. I don’t know if I passed out or fell asleep, but I woke up over and over again without any telltale marks of a monster-attack: all my fingers and toes were still attached, and the Sun was up. I had survived another treacherous night.
Over the years, I gradually lost faith in the monster under the bed. And anyway, I had other things to fear: spiders in dark corners, young men, failing grades, mean teachers, mean kids, mean streets, old men, getting caught smoking, dark alleys, not getting into college, bikers, drunks, gangs, getting pregnant, my brother, the Russians, getting caught cutting class, middle aged men, my father, pimples, boys…well you get the idea. With so many tangible immediate sources of fear, I didn’t need to look under the bed. Sometimes I wanted to hide under it. In fact when we were really little and could still sit upright under the bed, sis and I used to hide under there when our father came home from work. With good reason. The monster under the bed had nothing on you, Dad. You were way scarier.
Not to mention fear of getting fired, getting mugged or raped, getting killed in an accident, or by an angry maniac, or in the crossfire. Wait a minute, with so much that is fearful in life, how is fear a problem? Maybe fearful is our natural state, appropriately so, and not a problem at all?
We’ve spent the past half a millennium minimizing the threats in our environment and lengthening our lives, but we seem pretty fearful in spite of good housing, plumbing, hygiene, nutrition, medical care.
When all else fails, there’s always death. The good old fear of death, and it can kill you. My husband doesn’t need it. He manufactures things to fear, then worries about them.
I think people like fear. It’s a wake-up call. It’s better than coffee. When you’re afraid you really know you’re alive. And yes, being human some of us become addicted to it. I had a man on supervision who exposed himself to school kids. He was addicted to their fear. He got off on the fear in their eyes. The day he realized that, the community became instantly safer. He was horrified at what he was becoming. I was too.
Fear: ally or enemy? All depends. Yet, it is clear from the billions we spend on medications and medical practitioners, and a panoply of faith healers and assorted magicians and seers as well as honest to goodness healers…that we don’t like being afraid.
We accept that every individual life is short, while Life itself seems determined never to end.
We take responsibility for creating the world we complain ceaselessly about.
We step away from the “victim stance” and just like that we are walking on air. Talk about putting down an odorous burden. Whew!
We stop making up stories about who we are and why we’re here. We admit we have no clue.
If we run short of anything, we assign a think tank, not an armored tank.
We stop fighting because we can do better than that. That is why we evolved this far.