Fear

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt

For much of my life I have viewed this as an admonition to not be afraid–that we can and should resist fear.

Fear is normal and triggers a number of physiological and psychological changes, which is good. Fear compels us to leave a burning building or to choose between fight or flight when faced with a threat. Some fears are totally and logically justified. How we deal with fear is what defines us. Heroes–and I’ve met a few–are just as afraid as everyone else, but they decide to act on what is right. I can tell you, there are far more heroes among us than we admit because most of them do not see themselves as heroes and want no attention. They not only know that what they did was right, but they believe that anyone else who found themselves in the same position would have acted as they did.

Sadly that is not always true. Let’s go back to Roosevelt’s quote. FDR’s advice actually goes deep–probably deeper than Roosevelt himself realized. Fear is such a powerful force that the unscrupulous can use it to bend others to their will. It’s difficult to get people to organize and work together for something ; it’s easy to whip a mob into a frenzy to work against something.

– The Spanish Inquisition
– The Salem witch hunts
– Kristallnacht
– McCarthyism

Today, too many people are either using fear or succumbing to fear, and it bodes ill for all of us. People are afraid of those who don’t match their skin color. People are afraid of those who speak a different language. People are afraid of those who practice a particular religion. We fear those who are not at least 75 percent like us, so in “self-defense” we use deadly force based on a persons appearance rather than their actions. Throughout Europe and the United States, there are many who want to reject anyone from another country who wants to enter their country.

On the other hand, is it a crime to flee your home when it is being bombed? When narcotics gangs rule the streets? When your spouse and children could be senselessly slaughtered.

Unfortunately, there are some who pounce on the opportunity to use these situations to their advantage; to further their own agendas; to gain more power; to bend people to their will. They’re easy to spot–their the ones who stoke the fear in people, but many people prefer not to see, but to be blind.

If more of us were brave, we’d still feel fears–justified, unjustified, real, or imagined–and still make decisions based on what is right rather than out of fear. If more of us had a solid moral compass, we could do this. Unfortunately, it’s much easier to not be brave and not worry about what is truly right or wrong but to choose what’s best for ourselves at a particular moment.

If you don’t study history, you may not know the whole story, but there once was a brilliant American general who based his decisions on what was best for him in the moment. You may not know the entire story of how he took Richmond–but you probably know the name–General Benedict Arnold. The troops he led were British, fighting against the Americans.

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