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Fear Itself

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  -FDR

And where does fear so often come from? In my life and my observations, I believe one of the leading causes of fear is listening to other people projecting their fears onto others. Fear is an infectious contagion that can lead to paralysis, frenzy, and irrational thoughts.

I am not a girl who will ever go skydiving. Nothing about leaping out of a plane and plummeting to the ground before pulling a cord you pray works to slow your fall by the aid of some silky fabric sounds fun to me. The fear of heights is a common and natural fear. It’s a fear that prompts people to use caution in certain situations, and I believe one can have a healthy amount of this particular fear.

Despite my fear of heights, I love roller coasters, prefer window seats on a plane, and enjoyed the observation deck at the Empire State Building. So when my team voted to go zip-lining on a mission trip to Costa Rica, it sounded like a fun adventure to me. Sometime before the trip I mentioned to a woman what we would be doing on our free day. I recognized that the sudden scowl on her face was not a good sign. And then she opened her mouth. “You shouldn’t do that. I heard recently on the news that a girl…” At that point I attempted to figuratively plug my ears and sing a song in my head that would drown her out. I didn’t need to hear the gruesome horror story of what happened to someone else. How many people have done it without getting hurt or killed? I tried to extricate that fear seed before it could grow in my brain. I already knew the heights were going to be a challenge. I didn’t need to worry about amputations and infections and such. I hadn’t even known to be afraid of this until that woman opened her mouth and planted her fear in me. I just wanted to be able to enjoy the sights above the canopy.

I survived my zip-lining experience, never visited the hospital because of it, and still have all my limbs and my nose. But some of that experience was tainted because I had to suppress a fear that had not even been my own to start with thanks to someone else’s fear.

Then what about the frenzy of mob mentality? It only takes one or two people to stir up a crowd and incite them to cause destruction or even death as it dehumanizes people with a fear that causes them to attack. Fear makes people irrational. Little seeds of fear are planted until they take root and grow unchecked like mutated cells, reaching from one person to the next.

We each have our own fears to deal with. In a way, it’s like we think we can get rid of them if we pass them on to others. Or maybe we at least won’t have to face them alone. But instead of dragging others into our nightmares, we should seek to find support in coping with them. Instead of attacking and tearing each other down with fear, we can pull together and be stronger.

 

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