Fear Itself

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Arachnophobia: fear of spiders. Carnophobia: fear of meat. Dendrophobia: fear of trees. Soceraphobia: fear of parents-in-law. Glossophobia: fear of speaking in public. Necrophobia: fear of death. Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia: fear of long words. Venustraphobia: fear of beautiful women. A phobia is a persistent, irrational fear of a situation or thing that compels someone to avoid it. But what is fear?

"The only thing to fear is fear itself." Franklin D. Roosevelt's optimistic words in his inaugural address comforted a nation deep in depression. The phrase is convincing, until you think about fear itself: what do you fear, how do you react to it, why are you scared of it? Think about what you are afraid of and you’ll realize: fear is everywhere.

Scared of the dark, scared of monsters under the bed, scared of clowns, scared of snakes, scared of dogs. Fear begins at a young age. Many childhood fears fade with time but they are just the beginning. Even as you grow up and grow out of your juvenile fears, fear remains an intricate part of life.

Why do we lock our doors at night? Why do we wear helmets when we ride bikes? Why do we rely on police officers for protection? Why do we conform to social standards, to unwritten rules? Why do we care how others see us, define us? Why do we seek companionship? Why do we work endlessly towards our goals? Why do we second-guess and doubt?

Fear. It drives us. Every preventative measure, every safety feature, every act of protecting ourselves is shaped by our fears. Fear of getting robbed, getting hurt, getting attacked; fear of not being safe. We are scared. The thought of being rejected, being disliked, being alone is a frightening one in today's world. The idea of failure, of disappointment, of something not working out haunts us, terrifies us. Without even realizing it, we are robots of fear as our days are spent trying to avoid what we are afraid of. We live with fear; we fear in order to live.

We fear the unknown. We fear the future. We fear ending up with regrets. We fear regretting not trying something new. We fear that something new will result in failure. We fear that something new will result in greatness. We fear being inadequate. We fear being powerful. We fear getting in trouble. We fear troubling times. We fear that we won’t have enough time.

We fear losing those we care about. We fear not getting what we want. We fear getting what we want, but still being disappointed. We fear disappointing others. We fear letting others in. We fear how others look at us, label us. We fear judgment. We fear God’s judgment. We fear not getting into heaven. We fear that there is no heaven. We fear that we are living with too much fear. We fear what we are missing. We fear what is going to be missing.

Our country was built around fear and is still run by it. America's principles of freedom and democracy were born from a fear of oppression. Differing political parties formed from differing fears: a desire for the government to stay out of our way because of fear of centralized power and a want for the government to intervene for fear of too much individual power. We allow the government to have more and more control because we fear other countries, we fear for our safety as a nation. But we also fear the power we give the government. We fear corruption. We fear newcomers, immigrants. We fear our economy’s situation. We fear repeating history. We go to extreme lengths to minimize, to eliminate, to beat these fears.

Fear is an instinct, an emotion, a reaction. But fear is also an instrument. Religions teach followers to fear God so they can persuade and control actions. Terrorists use extreme tactics to instill fear in their enemies. The government uses fear to coerce citizens into agreeing with their agendas. Parents and other authority figures use fear to prevent bad behavior, to strengthen their commands. Threats, consequences, intimidation, what-ifs, punishments. Fear is powerful. Fear is dangerous.

Everyone preaches overcoming your fears because, as Dorothy Thompson said, "Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live." But even if we eliminate our fears on the surface, we do not eliminate fear itself. Fear is an inescapable part of life because it compels, drives, regulates, and determines the world we live in.

There are other motives, other forces behind our actions, but fear is the one that hides under our beds, sits in the back of our minds, lurks around the corner as an unspoken thought, a silent reason. It can control us, it may overtake us, and it will always be a part of us. We stress facing our fears, overcoming our fears, beating our fears, but we do not voice all our fears. We do not acknowledge all the ways that we are shaped by what we are afraid of. Fears exist on many levels, but fear itself is inescapable. Fear is part of life. We all fear fear itself.





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