Fear: Does it Protect us from Danger or Expose us to Comfort?

We constantly live in fear. No, I’m not making some big statement about society or the influence of capitalism on our daily lives or anything like that. I’m just saying that fear is a persisting, primitive emotion, one that naturally drives our survival. However, it isn’t quite the same as it used to be. Fortunately, times have changed and we don’t have to worry about many big dangerous animals hurting us or clashing hunter-gatherer societies stealing our food. Now, it’s “Will I get hired at Trader Joe’s?” or “Will I be able to fit in when I go to college?” Certainly, all our concerns are valid and in some way also relate to a basic primitive need, such as getting a job to pay for things like food and water, the bare essentials in the hierarchy of human needs. But for the most part, these days danger isn’t as immediate and fear impacts us in a much more passive way. Millenia ago, the story of someone not responding to fear when a tiger is chasing after them led to one pretty obvious ending. However, not responding to our modern fears of failure or rejection usually don’t generally equate to immediate death.

As a result of this of this, fear plays its role in our lives much more passively. The impact of listening to our fears often seems insignificant, but the gradual culmination of habituating timid actions can subtly lead to larger outcomes. Let’s use career development as an example. If I decide not to apply for a certain job because “I don’t have a shot” or “The application isn’t a good use of time” even though I’d love to work there, not much in my life will change. I’ll keep my current job, and not much will get worse. Or maybe I’m at a social event or party and decide not to talk to anybody who I’m not already good friends with, since talking to new people can be scary, I can still have fun and everything will be totally fine. The passive action of maintaining stagnation is hardly noticeable since predicting or imagining our lives with the new job, salary, and connections isn’t always easy. As fear-driven dismissals of opportunities, ideas, etc. happen repetitively, it’s super easy to make a habit out of saying “no” to things that instigate change, even if it’s for the better. When we listen to our rationally thinking gut over and over again, our lives don’t seem to be changing. Compare this to the aforementioned tiger-chase. If we don’t listen to our fears, it’s easy to predict what happens.

By the way, I’m totally guilty of this. As our society develops, things like social anxiety also change with each new social media app and revamped method of communication. My intention in writing this isn’t at all to discount anyone’s fears or advocate against decisions that maintain a healthy level of comfort. Comfort is great, and wanting it is natural. The unnerving truth, though, is that we grow by delving into discomfort. Of course, we all need to be rational and have a sense of moderation – I’m not at all encouraging any sort of risky/dangerous behavior or advocating anyone ignores their fears. I just think that it’s pretty important to be aware of how much we do or don’t do certain things because we’re so used to listening to our fears. 

Some might say that what I am calling fear is really rationality and realism. Not trying something because it “could be a waste of energy” or “might not work” feels like common sense and good judgement, but the fear of failure (to do a good job, to be capable enough) lies at the root of the dismissal of many opportunities. So I say be on the lookout for the opportunities that present themselves to you! Whatever they may be, like the chance to meet new people after getting plus-oned by a friend, or the brief idea of starting a new personal project, youtube channels and backyard gardens alike. Failure is always a possibility, but so is success, and as my friend and co-blogger, Kevina, preaches, “You are more capable than you think you are.”

I’ll end with a popular quote from one of the most famous Sci-Fi novels ever written, Dune by Frank Herbert:

“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.”

I think the “Litany Against Fear” does a nice job of summing up how we ought to react to fear. I’ve found this to be a pretty inspiring quote. What do you think? I’ll leave the analysis to you, it sure is a mouthful.

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