Engaging Fear

An Essay posted by dang on July 19, 2019.

Author's Note: I don't include full names on my quotations, but you can find them with a quick Google search.

The battle with fear encompasses all humanity. None is exempt from enlistment; a draft is instated at birth. During this battle, each of us has felt the exultation of the enemy fleeing, as well as the shame of another defeat. It rages incessantly every day—often every hour—of our lives.

And yet remarkably, it is a war often unnoticed, or at least ignored. By the time we reach an age to begin examining and understanding our fears, we accept them like the wind—disregarded except in extreme cases.

...fear is as familiar to us as air. We live in it, we inhale it, we exhale it, and most of the time we do not even notice it. Instead of "I'm afraid" we say, "I don't want to" or "I don't know how" or "I can't."

To engage an enemy certainly requires recognition of the foe. But fear has many fruits. Sometimes we try to battle the fruits, forgetting about the tree that produced them. Anger, aggression, hate, and discrimination are a few of the many fruits of fear.

A byproduct of fearing something over time is hatred. When we hate something or someone, a good question is: What or whom do I fear and why? Maybe the hatred we felt for a teacher in school stemmed from his incomprehensible grading system and we feared receiving a poor grade. So, we hated him because we feared him long enough. We could look inside and start to battle our hate. But rather than battling the hate, we should conquer the fear and then the hate is gone.

Children sense their parents' fears, either spoken or unspoken. Experiencing those fears over time, frequently they will grow into those same fears, and hates. This process passes down prejudice, discrimination, and bigotry. Even pets absorb the fears and hates of their owners as when a dog only barks at one race. But rather than battle bigotry, fight fear. When the fear disappears, bigotry dries up.

Here is the point: Fear is the cause of many of our regrettable actions; and yet, too often, we fail to notice it. Recognizing and remembering the true foe and the true battle are the first components to fighting effectively. The mind and body must be trained to recognize fear and then sound the war cry.

God planted fear in the soul as truly as he planted hope or courage. It is a kind of bell or gong, which rings the mind into quick life and avoidance on the approach of danger. It is the soul's signal for rallying.

But before the war cry is sounded, a judgment is made. Is the fear a helpful fear? Not all fears should be rejected outright. Some should be heeded, or at least weighed into our decision.

Not all fears are bad. Many of them are wholesome, indeed, very necessary for life. The fear of God, the fear of fire, the fear of electricity, are life-saving fears that if heeded, bring a new knowledge to life.

However, even proper fears need to be kept within reasonable bounds. A proper fear, obsessed over, can deplete us as quickly as a foolish fear.

Fear is implanted in us as a preservative from evil, but its duty, like that of other passions, is not to overbear reason, but to assist it. It should not be suffered to tyrannize in the imagination, to raise phantoms of horror, or to beset life with supernumerary distresses.

So, if we find a wise fear, a proper fear, then we heed its promptings and act prudently for our safety. But many—probably most—fears are not helpful. They dissipate and drain us, devouring our life's energy. These fears, then, are the battle. These are the targets of our combat.

After our foe is recognized, we must visit the armory and choose weapons for our battle. As we search though our arsenal, probably our most potent weapon is action.

The most drastic and usually the most effective remedy for fear is direct action.

Doing something calms us, refreshes us, drains away the fear in the same way that fear previously drained us. Action is a tangible step toward courage, the beginning of exercising courage. Sometimes, this is only the first step of a cross-continent journey. But at least the journey has begun, and that fact starts banishing fear.

In aiding or rescuing others who have been overcome by fear, action is still the weapon of choice.

The failure of the average soldier to fire is... a result of a paralysis which comes of varying fears. The man afraid wants to do nothing; indeed, he does not care even to think of taking action. Getting him on his way to the doing of one positive act—the digging of a foxhole or... persuading him to make any constructive use of his muscle power, and especially putting him at a job which he can share with other men, may become the first step toward getting him to make appropriate use of his weapons under combat conditions. The man who finds that he can still control his muscles will shortly begin to use them.

So, in our own lives, or in assisting others, action is our first choice. Knowledge is our next weapon. Too many of our fears sprout from the seedbed of ignorance.

We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them.

If our vehicle suddenly produces a strange sound and our bank account is empty, fear can emerge. And if our mechanical knowledge is limited, we realize repairs could run the gamut up to the very expensive. But by asking a knowledgeable neighbor to help with a diagnosis, at least we are certain of the extent of the problem, even if it is a costly one—and there is always the possibility that we will find it is nothing of concern. Knowledge can abate, or at least size up and verify our fear.

The best antidote to fear is to know all we can about the situation.

Sometimes we avoid the weapon of knowledge because of the possibility of finding out difficult things. Maybe our employer posted a list of people who soon will receive a pay cut. We still haven't looked at it after two days because we fear we might be on the list. This ostrich-mentality usually aggravates the situation and misses opportunities that can only be availed by early action.

Another weapon is dismissal. Our minds can be imaginative. This is a help in finding creative solutions to our problems or fears. But it hinders when it fans our fears into a hotter flame.

Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is.
—German Proverb

Fears magnify their source. They produce imaginations, fantasies, and aggrandizements which simply must be dismissed. Only cold, certain facts should be given audience, while foolish inventions are sent promptly away. Wise examination of our fears is helpful, but we must learn to recognize wisdom's boundaries. Once we depart from her threshold, foolish and fearful imaginations only drain and deplete us.

We poison our lives with fear of burglary and shipwreck and... the house is never burgled, and the ship never goes down.

Our last weapon is endurance. We can't always act immediately. No; nor can we always unveil the true extent of the difficulty ahead. If our employer posts a notice that she will make some personnel changes within ten days, it can be hard to block fear. In such a situation, it might be impossible to gain needed knowledge: Is she hiring or cutting? Does it involve us? And so, our only option is to wait.

Other situations simply don't provide a source of fear. We aren't really sure of what we are frightened, only that fear is there. Such situations can be enormously difficult.

Fear is never more uneasy than when it doth not certainly know its object.

These are the times for endurance, the endurance to wait patiently as more information unfolds. We want action; we want to do something. But at times, we must push back against fear day after day after day, while we wait.

Anyone can be brave for five minutes. You will not only be braver when others falter; brave not only in danger, but brave in hardship, in loneliness and, perhaps the most difficult of all, in those periods of long inactivity, of boredom that comes at times to all...

The courage to endure shows great maturity. Only the solid in character can withstand fear's attacks over extended periods of time and refute them. Fears, over time, can eat into the hardest fortifications, like water drops shaping stone. But a fortified will provides a barrier stronger than stone, an impenetrable barrier. Ultimately, fear is allowed or refuted by our will. Our will decides again and again whether we attack with action, knowledge, dismissal, and endurance, or whether we succumb to fear. Rejecting fear, then, is always a choice.

Courage is a moral quality; it is not a chance gift of nature like an aptitude for games; it is a cold choice between two alternatives; the fixed resolve not to quit; an act of renunciation which must be made not once, but many times by the power of the will. Courage is willpower.
—Lord Moran

So much of defeating fears comes down to that "cold choice."

Some fears we habitually banish outright. To others, we concede the battle immediately. The latter are the conflicts we must prepare for. Healthy life requires facing those battles, especially those which reoccur. And in facing them repeatedly, we can scrutinize them.

When we examine our fears deeply, we examine ourselves deeply and important discoveries are made. Truths are found; strengths and weaknesses—previously unknown—are seen. Most importantly, after much examination, we find the true sources of our fears.

Fear is a question: What are you afraid of and why? Just as the seed of health is in illness, because illness contains information, our fears are a treasure house of self-knowledge, if we explore them.

Most fears are cowards. They put on a vicious face, but like miniature dogs, fears flee when they realize the gate has been opened. Fears always will back down to a firm mind, a firm hand, a firm will.

Obstacles are like wild animals. They are cowards but they will bluff you if they can. If they see you are afraid of them... they are liable to spring upon you; but if you look them squarely in the eye, they will slink out of sight.

A certain amount of fatalism—not too much, not too little—can help in facing fears. We can look at the worst possible outcome, and accept it. At that point, fear has lost its leverage.

Whatever the outcome will be, will be, whether you fear it or not.

We should not simply shrug our shoulders and admit that we are mere driftwood in the current, powerless to choose our fate. Inversely, we have so much say about that which happens. But more importantly, we have complete control over exorcising our worry about things which might or might not occur. If difficulties happen, they happen, and the firm-in-mind stand ready to adjust.

Fear levels can build with consistent exposures to difficulties. We must find our individual ways to banish or release fear. Trial, failure, and time show us those things that help us to relax, that restore confidence and peace in our lives. Exercise, study, laughter, prayer, service, song, pondering, sleep, food, animals, nature, reading, sociality, fasting, writing, and travel are some options for exiling fear and promoting courage. Sometimes, simple things can decide the final battle.

A light supper, a good night's sleep, and a fine morning have sometimes made a hero of the same man who, by an indigestion, a restless night, and a rainy morning would have proved a coward.

Frequently, small and simple things defeat the great and visible. For both physical and moral health, those things which aid another might not meet our requirements; wisdom asks each to find his or her individual rebuttals of fear.

The battle with fear is real. Although often unnoticed, it decides so much. Fear rarely makes the news, but it is the source of so much that does. It endlessly sneaks through our lives, through our world, the master of disguise, appearing as something else, whispering until it can shout.

This battle is fought on worldwide battlefields, national battlefields, statewide battlefields, but mostly individual battlefields. The collective battlefields are just that: a collection of individual battlefields occurring simultaneously. We can—and should—help each other in these battles. But some days, some hours, some moments, there can be no plea for help. We must stand alone and fight fear. We must look it in the face, draw our weapons and conquer. Or in the end, partially or fully, we will perish.