Originally publishedFriday, July 23, 2004
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” Frank Herbert wrote this as a litany of his futuristic vision of religion. It is often quoted because it is real. It is meaningful. It resonates with us. We know in our hearts, in the depths of our soul, that fear is a vile and weak reaction. Those who cower in fear are forever enslaved.
Fear is the mind-killer.
When we fear something, we cede power to it. At that point, rational thought no longer works. Fear corrupts logic. Fear can actually make us act against our self-interest by creating a mirage of what our self-interest actually is. We fear something and we think by avoiding it, by giving into the fear, we are acting in our self-interest through self-preservation. We assume that which we fear will destroy us. We make that assumption because we have rolled over and given ourselves fully to our fear. We become the puppet.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
Every time we cave to fear, a part of us dies. It can be a slow painless death though. We may not even realize it is happening, like falling asleep in a room filled with carbon monoxide. A slow gentle death. Whether you die quickly or slowly, painfully or painlessly, the end result is the same and it is a matter of whether or not you choose to rage against the dying of the light or accept it with nothing more than a whimper.
What has fear prevented us from doing? What choices have we made only because we feared one path over the other? There are many metaphors that come to mind when discussing fear and how it destroys us. Imagine a man who has capsized his boat in the ocean. The boat sinks and he is left floating above it. The shoreline is miles away but visible. He wears a floatation device and knows how to swim, but he fears being in the ocean. The fear has led him to hold on tight to a rope that is tied to the boat, which is now resting on the bottom. He lashes the rope around his waist believing that if he can stay put, help will arrive. As the tide comes in, he is held tight by the rope. The waters rise above him and his life vest wants to lift him above it. Soon the water is above his head and he drowns.
Admittedly, that’s a pretty stupid man, but the metaphor is sound. Do we hold onto our fears stronger than we hold onto the willingness to save our lives?
Fear is easily dismissed when it comes to life and death situations. In the movies the person who has a fear of heights needs to jump from one building to another in order to escape a certain death. Guided by competing fears, the fear of death wins and the person jumps, overcoming the fear of heights.
What about if the issue at hand isn’t a life or death issue? How do we handle fear in those cases? Take the fear of rejection as an example. It is a common fear that most of us have experienced. No one likes to be rejected, but many of us have an absolute fear of it. Being told no, in our warped belief, will destroy us in ways we can’t even imagine. Some of us are able to overcome the fear and actually take the risk. The more often the risk is taken, the greater the chance that the rewards will be reaped. Those of us who never overcome our fear, will never reap the rewards. That is a fact.
Fear of the unknown is the one fear that gets to most of us. Before us are two paths, one that is clear and known, though one that we really don’t want to take. The other path is completely unknown. There are no guidebooks, no rumors about, nothing. Taking that path means accepting whatever horrible, awful things might come along. We can imagine all sorts of ways in which that path might destroy us. Many of us can’t see the potential rewards as being worth the risk. A few of us, though, who don’t allow fear to control their lives, forge onward and walk into the darkened path, facing the unknown, taking the risk, and possibly reaping the reward.
Too many of us will take the clear path, because known risks and sacrifices are more acceptable than unknown risks and sacrifices.
What are you afraid of? Rejection? Failure? Success?
Personally, fear of failure weighs heavily on my mind. I fear making decisions that will leave me homeless, leave me bereft. One of the reasons for that fear is the lack of a solid safety net. Most people have families they can fall back on to help them through difficult times. I cannot. Some people have significant savings they can use to bridge those gaps, my savings while existent, is less than significant.
The laws of chance dictate that if risk isn’t taken, no rewards can be given. Unless we ante up, we won’t have a chance to see if we can win the pot. Failure is assured by not playing. And we can’t kid ourselves into thinking that we won’t ever fail. Failure occurs more often than success. Luckily, while we may hold onto our failures for the rest of our lives, the world as a whole only cares about our successes. We have the world’s permission to fail as often as we need to until we succeed. All the world cares is we never stop trying. Stop trying and then the world will brand us as a failure. Better yet, we need to not worry about the labels success or failure and just keep doing. Keep moving. Like a shark, we die when we stop moving.
Roosevelt wanted us to fear fear. Quite the contrary, we should fear nothing. We should realize that we are the masters of our world, our universe. Fear should never be taken into account when calculating risk. Fear clouds our judgment and does nothing to truly protect us. Fear is the reaction of the weak. We can be frightened by something, but never fear it. Fear is what the deer feels when it freezes in front of the headlights of a car at night. Fear contributes nothing to survival, except in those rare cases where non-movement and inaction prevent you from being killed. We can easily see now how fear is a throwback reaction to being hunted by small brained reptiles who could only find their prey when the prey fled.